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Child Life Specialist Travels to Nation’s Capital to Donate Life-Saving Bone Marrow

December 14, 2016
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Every day, Betsy Flores works with sick and injured children in her role as a Child Life Specialist at Baystate Children’s Hospital; she never expected that one day she would be the one saving a life by donating her bone marrow.

Every three minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with a form of cancer of the blood, such as leukemia. For some, their only chance at survival is a life-saving bone marrow transplant. This requires a specific match process, including blood type and other variables. Only 20% of patients are able to find a match within their family. Many transplants come from a national registry of live anonymous donors, which Flores is a member of.

Eight years ago, after a coworker’s son was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, Flores signed up to be a donor on the bone marrow registry with and vowed to help save a life if the opportunity should arise.

While Flores didn’t end up being a match for her coworker’s son, she was able to help save another.

Eight Years Later

“For eight years I heard nothing, then earlier this spring I got a call saying that I was a potential match for a recipient that was looking for bone marrow,” said Flores. “The process required many medical tests and lab work to clarify that I was the best match for this patient. When it was discovered that I was, in fact, the most appropriate donor for this patient, I traveled to Washington DC for the procedure.”

The hour long procedure required Flores to be put under anesthesia and stay overnight in the hospital. While there is a limit to how much marrow one can donate, Flores was able to make a full donation of 1500 ml (which is comparable to a one-and-a-half liter soda bottle!). Although she did have some discomfort post-procedure, Flores said she bounced back quickly and that the potential to save a life was well worth it.

“I did have some pain at first but nothing that I wouldn’t do to help someone in need,” said Flores. “The medical team was proactive in managing my pain and within a few days, I was feeling back to myself again.”

Within 24 hours of Flores’ donation, the bone marrow was given to the patient in need. Although the information she received at first about the recipient was scarce, Flores may one day down the road have the opportunity to meet the person she helped save.

“At first, the only information they give you is the age and sex of the patient, so I knew that he was a 52-year-old male living in the United States,” said Flores. “Hearing that made me think of my dad and my uncles and that this could be any person in my family. It really meant a lot to me to be able to help."

Eye-Opening Experience

Flores says her experience has really opened her eyes. She urges everyone to sign up for the chance to make a difference and save a life, through the Be The Match program.

“This experience has made me want to be an advocate and spokesperson for,” said Flores. “Working on the pediatric unit at the hospital, I often see patients who are waiting for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. This was a very emotional experience for me for many reasons. Despite the time, physical demands, and dedication to the process, my life was only interrupted briefly compared to his fight for his life. I didn’t have to give it a second thought. It’s an amazing thing knowing that now this person is home with their family. Whether it saves his life or gives him more time, it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that I was the one that made that happen for him.”