April observance strives to increase organ, tissue and eye donations
by Marie Nesmith
Apr 06, 2014 | 2229 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Reminding him that “life is precious,” a pewter clock is taking up residence on U.S. Navy Lt. Eric Priest’s nightstand. Welcoming him each morning as he rises, the cherished gift was from Phil Jones, whose life was extended by Priest’s bone marrow donation in 2012.

Initially exchanging letters with Jones via the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, Priest was able to meet his transplant recipient last month.

“After one year to the day, we each requested to exchange information and the donor center helped to make these arrangements,” Priest said. “We spoke on the phone several times over several months and got to know each other and our families a little better. Being able to talk on the phone with the recipient of my bone marrow donation gave my wife and I a sense of relief. We could hear firsthand Phil’s health status and how he was progressing following the transplant. Knowing that [the marrow in his body is 100 percent mine] is intriguing but knowing that he is in complete remission is miraculous. Finally, on March 8, 2014, Phil and I and [our] families were able to meet for the first time in person. The meeting was at my home in Millington, Tenn., and was a memorable moment in my life.

“Just before Phil and Pat, [his] wife, pulled into our driveway, I remember feeling excited and a little nervous. I was excited because we had shared in one of God’s miracles and nervous because I hadn’t ‘seen’ that he was indeed healthy. He looked great. [I] remembered thinking that he did not look 75. I hugged Phil first and then Pat as I had promised her a hug when we met for the first time. They are great people and [I] know that God will use his situation for many wonderful things. After we had time to discuss our experiences with one another, Phil gave me a gift to open. Inside the box was a pewter clock inscribed with the words: ‘Eric Priest Thanks for Adding Time to My Life. Phil Jones July 4, 2012.’ At first I didn’t know what to say. It is a precious gift and now serves as a reminder for me that life is precious and it only takes a small amount of time in service to others to make a difference.”

A former Bartow County resident, graduating from Cass High School in 1997, Priest, 35, currently is the deputy director for reserve officer accessions for commander at the Navy Recruiting Command in Millington, Tenn. Serving in the Navy for nearly 17 years, he signed up to be a potental donor through the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program during his first tour at Charleston, S.C. After two potential matches fell through over the years, Priest learned he was the “best match” for Jones, who was battling myelodysplasia, which hinders the development of certain blood cells.

“The donation was to occur in San Diego, Calif., so I was flown down to the hospital there and completed a physical to ensure I was healthy enough to donate,” Priest said. “Once everything was set my wife and I traveled back to San Diego for the procedure. Really, it was more like a vacation than a medical procedure to donate bone marrow. We arrived in the area five days prior to the donation and I received injections each day to boost the number of stem cells produced in the bone marrow. While receiving the injections, I was able to carry on as I normally would with few exceptions like playing contact sports. My wife and I even went on 3- and 5-mile runs, along with walks on the beach. While there can be various side effects from the injections, I only experienced slight soreness all over and a headache. The donation occurred on July 3, 2012, following the final injection.

“The procedure was much easier than expected. It is very similar to donating blood as a needle was placed in one arm and the blood was sent through machine, which filtered the extra cells that had collected in the bloodstream. The blood was then sent back through another needle in my opposite arm. To be honest, I napped for the four hours I had to lie still while donating. Once the donation was over I was given lunch and released to rest at my hotel room. I was back to normal a few days later.”

With National Donate Life Month being observed in April, inspirational stories similar to Priest’s are being highlighted across the country.

According to www.donatelife.net, “National Donate Life Month (NDLM) was instituted by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003. Celebrated in April each year, NDLM features an entire month of local, regional and national activities to help encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those that have saved lives through the gift of donation.

“For the 2014 National Donate Life Month artwork, the Donate Life America team was inspired by springtime and the symbol of a flying kite. Spring is a season of new life that calls to mind the many men, women and children whose lives have been saved or healed by organ, eye and tissue donation. Likewise, the kite is an image that appeals to all ages, genders and nationalities and is often associated with hope and celebration.”

Like Priest, Gracie Schwartz also has seen the life-saving measures of transplants firsthand. Born with one kidney, the 18-year-old Taylorsville resident was diagnosed with membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis, a disease that can hamper a kidney’s filters. After her health drastically deteriorated last year, she received a kidney transplant from Kacy Pollak, a family friend, Dec. 19, 2013.

“We’ve known since I was very little that I would need a transplant but with my disease, I was OK up until around April of last year and my kidney function dropped drastically and fast [to] 10 percent,” said Schwartz, a senior at Woodland High School. “... I was physically not able to do almost anything. I would wake up in the mornings, go to school, come home and fall asleep and not wake up until dinnertime and then go back to bed. I slept probably 18 hours a day and I was still exhausted. [After the transplant, it was a] total change. It was from the moment I woke up from the surgery. Other than the fact that I was on morphine for the pain of the surgery itself, I had energy.

“I was able to be awake. I’ve started doing more activities with my youth group. I’ve started exercising. I actually eat now. Before I didn’t even have enough energy to eat meals. I do so much more now. ... I owe my life to Kacy and I thank her so much. ... For people who are thinking about being donors, I would encourage it because Kacy said, ‘I was able to birth my children and that’s giving life but I get to save a life.’ And she said that was ‘the biggest blessing’ she could have ever done and it’s the greatest accomplishment in her life.”

Echoing Schwartz’s comments, Priest also urges people to help save another person’s life by becoming a donor.

“I have had many successes during my near 17 years of naval service,” Priest said. “For each of these, I had to put forth the effort in all aspects of my life in order to be successful. But for the success of this bone marrow transplant, its success is not my own. I did not work for it and I didn’t earn it. While technically I helped to save a life, all I had to give is a little time. Yes, I donated marrow too but my body was able to replenish it a few weeks later. Only with our Almighty God at the helm and a team of wonderful professionals and donors giving of themselves, can miracles like this be possible.

“I encourage everyone to sign on to be a donor,” he said, referring specifically to bone marrow donations. “While donation is not guaranteed, you give others a chance just by being on the list. Each year, more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with diseases that require an infusion of stem cells; more than 70 percent of patients are unable to find an appropriate match within their own family and will require an unrelated donor ([National Marrow Donor Program], 2013). If donation does occur, all you are really giving up is a little of your time. We should all be able to give that in order to help save lives and serve others.”

Through Donate Life Georgia, Georgia residents can enroll in the state registry to provide organ, tissue and eye donations.

“Georgians can join the registry through this Web site, when renewing their driver license online, or when obtaining/renewing their license at a local driver license office,” according to www.donatelifegeorgia.org. “You can also join the registry by calling Donate Life Georgia directly at 1-866-57-SHARE (1-866-577-4273) and request a donor registry form. If you already have ‘organ donor’ on your driver license, you still are encouraged to join the new registry to ensure your previous designation is documented.

“You have the power to donate life! Sign up today to become an organ, tissue, and eye donor. Your generosity can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance dozens more through tissue and eye donation.”