Retired air traffic controller Charlie Willwerth of St. Augustine, Florida, boards an airplane with precious cargo -- donated bone marrow that he is transporting to a waiting recipient. "There's a person lying in a bed somewhere who's needing these stem cells to live again," Charlie recently told the Jacksonville Business Journal.
Charlie knows this from personal experience. If not for the generosity of a donor, he might not have survived the acute myeloid leukemia that threatened his life in 2010.
According to a story on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog, Mayo Clinic's James Foran, M.D., started Charlie on chemotherapy shortly after diagnosis and was able to get the disease into remission. When Charlie relapsed in April 2012, doctors restarted chemotherapy and determined that a bone marrow transplant would be the best protocol. Although about 30 percent of siblings are a match for bone marrow donation, neither of Charlie's sisters were a match for him. So his name was added to the Be the Match registry, and six weeks later, a match was found with a young woman from Texas.
Today, two years after receiving the bone marrow transplant, Charlie is cancer-free. Recently he and his wife traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to meet his donor and attend a fundraiser for Be the Match. Charlie says that when he was walking up in front of the crowd to embrace that donor, Nicole Davis, he was trembling because it was so emotional. Charlie told the Journal, "That kind of generosity is hard to understand, when it comes down to that one person agreeing to do this for you."
To pay that generosity forward, Charlie has trained to be a volunteer certified courier for the National Marrow Donor Program. Today, he travels around the country to pick up and deliver donated bone marrow stem cells to transplant programs, including the one at Mayo Clinic's campus in Florida. Charlie's physician, Dr. Foran, told Sharing Mayo Clinic, "It's wonderful to know a patient was so affected by what an anonymous donor did for him that he wants to give back this way and facilitate the same for others."
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