My Donor and life saver

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RobertGawles.JPGBy Holly Easley

Holly Easley began her cancer journey five years ago when she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). After two types of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, she says she loves life, is improving daily and enjoys blogging about the cancer experience at

After a bone marrow biopsy, my doctor, Dr. Guillermo Garcia-Manero, told me it was time to see Dr. Chitra Hosing, my stem cell transplant doctor, and start the process.

Timing is important because, as Dr. Garcia-Manero explained to me, we don't want to do it too soon, but we also don't want to wait too long.

Finding a donor was the first priority, because it can be a lengthy process. This was very scary to me. Reality was setting in.  

The first place to look for a donor is with siblings. With each sibling you have a 25% chance of finding a match. A related match is considered the best possible match, with the fewest complications.  

I have two sisters and a brother, which gave me a 75% chance of finding a perfect related match. My siblings were all together that Thanksgiving, so they were sent swab kits to complete and mail back.

A perfect match
The results came back; I had a half match, a less than half match and a perfect match. It was wonderful news.  

However, my sister, the perfect match, started having some unknown health problems and was unable to get a diagnosis. We waited and waited, but my health was deteriorating and we couldn't wait any longer. She could not be my donor without a diagnosis, so to the Bone Marrow Registry we went.   

I was very lucky because my coordinator at MD Anderson found me a perfect unrelated match in the registry. Even better, he agreed to donate his stem cells.

The only information MD Anderson could tell me about my donor was that he's a 19-year-old young man from the United States. I would have to wait a year from the day of my transplant to find out if he wanted to remain anonymous.

My coordinator was Susan Sheldon, a very knowledgeable and kind person. She started coordinating all of the timing of the tests I needed prior to my transplant and my hospital admission date with my donor's testing and harvesting of his stem cells. I was admitted on May 17, 2011 to begin chemo and my transplant was seven days later.

It was a profound experience to think that a 19-year-old was willing to be my donor. I can't explain the feelings of thankfulness, gratefulness, love and appreciation I had for him. I also had feelings of frustration and anticipation for having to wait a year to find out if he would be willing to communicate with me.

On May 24 this year, my first transplant birthday, I signed the forms with my personal information so that Susan could get them to my donor.  

hollycellsfromrobert.JPGTears of joy
On June 5 I received the most wonderful email from Robert Gawlas, telling me what an honor it had been to be my donor. He said he was thrilled to put a name with the person he donated stems cells to. He also said he was willing to meet me.

What an emotional experience. I cried so many happy tears.    

Robert is a college senior football player for University of Pennsylvania, applying for law school, and an extraordinary, compassionate and giving young man.  

I can't wait to meet him. I hope that will happen soon.

I'm extremely blessed to have been able to find a donor in the registry. There are those who are not able to find a match, which is very sad to me.  

Please, if you are able, sign up to the BeTheMatch registry so that you might save someone's life. Robert saved my life. Thank you, Robert.  


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