Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Face of Defense: Soldier Clears Hurdle for Marrow Donation

By Army Spc. Kimberly K. Menzie
Task Force Currahee

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Feb. 23, 2011 – An aviation operations noncommissioned officer assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, may have the opportunity to make a sacrifice that could be someone’s one shot at hope.

Army Sgt. Tyrone J. Harvey has been notified that he is a preliminary match to donate bone marrow.

“When I found out I was a preliminary match, I had a mixed rush of emotions: happiness, excitement and fear,” said Harvey, a St. Louis native. “Initially, when I checked the block, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe someday I will be helping someone.’”

He said Red Cross representatives told him very few people are selected as donors. “They tell you going in that less than 10 percent of people who volunteer qualify as preliminary matches, then only one of 10 preliminary matches actually get to donate.”

For Harvey, the road to becoming a potential bone marrow donor began at Fort Rucker, Ala., when he helped as president of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program to organize a Red Cross blood drive. “While I was donating blood,” he said, “I was asked to donate an extra vial of blood and to register as a bone marrow donor.”

Before signing any paperwork, he said, he was briefed on what the donor process entailed.

“They explained to me all about how they would test my blood for certain properties, and if it was a match and they need you, then they would contact you,” he said.

Six years later, officials with the Defense Department’s bone marrow program contacted Harvey to see if he would be willing to complete the remaining tests to determine if he is a conclusive match.

Harvey is unable to complete the remaining tests while he is deployed, but he said he is dedicated to following through completely when he returns home.

The science behind finding a match helps explain why matches are hard to find.

Army Maj. (Dr.) Burton T. Newman, the brigade’s surgeon and a native of Tallahassee, Fla., explained that DNA has specific markers called human leukocyte antigens, or HLA. When these DNA markers are closely matched, Newman said, the likelihood is greater that the donor cells will reproduce in the transplant recipient’s body.

“Because half of our DNA comes from our mothers and then the other half from our fathers, the best chance of finding a match is from immediate family,” Newman said.

Information from the National Cord Blood Program notes differences in the frequency of certain HLA types among ethnic groups. Therefore, patients are more likely to find a good match among donors from their own ethnic group.

African-American patients who need bone marrow transplantation have an especially hard time finding an unrelated bone marrow. The greater variation in HLA types is higher among people with African ancestry than in any other group, and some people who have both African and European or other ancestry may have novel combinations of HLA types that are not found in either parental population.

Harvey’s parents are of African-American and Caucasian descent.

“If I have a chance to offer someone the opportunity for them to continue their life, I don’t really feel like there is a choice,” he said. “It is such a small price for happiness. I know what it is like to lose someone close. … If this is someone’s one shot at hope, why not do it? I like to think that if the situation were reversed, someone would do the same for me.”

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