Interview with Reggie Smith
By Cori Phelps
For Reggie, a life-changing chance to curb the debilitating affects of a disease for a stranger came unexpectedly—in the form of being a donor, through his registration with the Dept. of Defense Bone Marrow Program. After hearing a simple presentation onboard the ship he was stationed on 22 years ago, he donated and surprisingly, was contacted 20 years later—just two years ago, as a possible match for someone. Although the logistics of this particular match couldn’t be met at the time, God wasn’t done and he was contacted again. This time, Reggie was one of only two people who were a match in the program’s entire pool of donors.
Process of giving
Recounting details of the recipient, Reggie shared, “They tell you the age, their medical condition and of course you know their blood type…and after I donate my marrow to the young man, then it’d be up to me and him in order for us to stay in touch with one another, or to contact one another after maybe six months to a year, if he’s feeling better after my donation.” Reggie discovered this recipient would be a 14-year old boy with sickle-cell anemia, a disease that affects a lot of African-Americans, who ironically tend to donate the least, Reggie also learned.
When initially contacted, the decision was a “no-brainer” for the Smiths, with “no apprehension about what (he) would have to go through.” In fact, they had already been praying about it before an answer was needed, so Reggie gave blood at a local, affiliated blood banks and the sample “was sent to the DOD in Washington, D.C. to make sure everything was right,” he noted. “Once they did that, it was ‘yes, you are a match; yes, you need to come’—and the ball starting rolling after that.”
Since the process can be more difficult for the donor, we asked if Reggie had any concerns, and there was only one—what method they would use. “I knew of one procedure beforehand of how they extracted the bone marrow—through the small of your back, right between your back and your hip…And I knew that for years, that was the only way they had to do it. I made the decision anyway, because that’s all I knew until I went up to do my physical in D.C..”
Once there, Reggie learned there are now several different, less-invasive ways to extract, including PBSC (peripheral blood stem cells) which is how he donated. “Once I passed my physical, they flew me and my family up, and over five days they gave me a series of injections,” Reggie shared. “And these injections were to cause the marrow in my bones to come out into my bloodstream…and on the fifth day, rather than going through my back—which is the way everyone thinks of, all they had to do was go through my veins in my arm—the same as if you were to donate blood.” After this five-hour procedure, they must spin the blood to separate out the right bone cells and platelets they want to keep to give to the recipient, and return the rest to Reggie.
“The first three days were great,” he said about the process at the beginning of August, “and I was even able to go out and visit the city of Washington, D.C.” After the 4th day of injections, Reggie began to feel a bit sluggish with some aches and pains, so out of precaution he gave his 6’5” frame some rest. “I’d say the worst part of it was probably having to wait for five hours. Other than that the procedure was seamless.”
Since the antibodies given remain in Reggie’s bloodstream and there is continued, medical follow-up for a year post-procedure, he’s able to assist the same recipient again in that year should this donation not take properly, and he and Sancha have definite plans to one day meet the young man now carrying his DNA. To those considering donation, Reggie excitedly said, “If you’re physically able to do it—yes! I’m wholeheartedly behind more people that want to get involved and donate!”