Blood Brothers: Liberty Wing sergeant donates life through DoD bone marrow program

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Andria J. Allmond
  • 512th Public Affairs
Master Sgt. Kevin Livingston's stem cells pushed out from his bone marrow and into his bloodstream. Siphoned from a vein in his arm, the cells swirled from the needle, up through the slim, plastic tubing and finally emptied into an inconspicuous collection bag located next to his bed. As the medical bag swelled more and more with each incoming cell, so did the possibility of saving the life of a man he had never met.

Last year, Sergeant Livingston, 512th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Air Reserve Technician, participated in the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program - designed to help DoD members provide bone marrow and stem cells to people in need, most of whom are cancer patients. He said he encountered the program at the 512th Airlift Wing's 2009 wing picnic.

"They had a stand at the picnic and all you had to do to find out if you were a match (with a person in need of stem cells) was to a swab of the inside of your cheek (with a cotton-tipped swab)," said the Airman of 22 years. "I thought it was easy enough."

The swab retains a sample of DNA. While some applicant's DNA never matches that of a needy recipient, for others, the match is made within months or years. Sergeant Livingston, his DNA and a lucky recipient fell into the latter category.

After collecting the sample, he signed a consent form, DoD Form DD 2576, DOD Bone Marrow Donor Program Donor Information and Health Screening, to be listed on the DoD and National Marrow Donor Program registry.

Then, he waited.

"I was told that I was a match for someone last October," he said. "I was scared and excited, a little unsure and nervous, too. You aren't allowed to know anything about the person receiving the donation, except their gender, until a year after you made the donation. So, I had no idea who was even going to get my donation."

Upon being matched with a possible recipient, he said he immediately began the physical preparations necessary for his body to donate the stem-cells. He received a complete physical examination and started receiving the five-day cycle of Filgrastim injections. Filgrastim is a protein similar to a hormone naturally produced in the body. It moves the blood-forming cells out of bone marrow and into the bloodstream, so there are enough cells for a transplant.

"The injections were difficult," he said. "They made me so tired and achy I was getting weaker by the day because the (Filgrastim) causes your bloodstream to become overcrowded. Overall, I felt horrible. I couldn't work, and I could barely walk. "

Sergeant Livingston credits the support of his and his wife Freida, and supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Gerry LaChance, 512th Maintenance Group, for getting him through the difficult time.

"(Loving, caring, giving, compassionate and patriotic) are just a few of the words that I would use to describe my husband," said Mrs. Livingston. "But, the word I use most often is 'hero.' For many reasons, he has always been my hero; and I'm proud to say that today he is a hero to someone that he doesn't even know."

After his series of injection were complete, his body primed for contribution, Sergeant Livingston traveled to Apheresis Associates of Northern Virginia, Annandale, Va., for five hours of blood-letting.

Following the donation that left him physically exhausted, he said he returned home and days later, went back to work. But his thoughts and hopes stayed with the part of himself that stayed at the apheresis clinic.

"I thought to myself, 'What if he doesn't make it, '" Sergeant Livingston said about the donation recipient. "And although it wasn't the most pleasant experience, and I'm not sure if it will even save a life, I will do it again. In a heartbeat, I'll do it again."

Sergeant Livingston said that since the process of donating stem cells through apheresis was rather simple and quite rewarding, he wants to influence others to partake.

"For what you can do, to possibly save the life of another human being, a little bit of discomfort is worth it, " he said. "In fact, a lot of people aren't aware that the apheresis process of donating stem cells even exists. It's much less painful than the traditional method."

The more widely recognize method of stem cell donation is the hospital-based surgical process in which doctors use a special, hollow needle to withdraw liquid bone marrow, in which stem cells reside, from the back of the pelvis. It is notorious for leaving the individual donating the marrow sore and sometimes requiring a blood transfusion afterward. In contrast, the apheresis method, officially called peripheral blood stem cells donation, is similar to a typical blood donation except that it takes longer.

Calling the experience "rewarding" and "a chance to be part of something bigger than myself," he said he intends on donating again, and is on a mission to encourage his fellow servicemembers to get involved.

"I want people to know that it's not painful to test, and there is a much less invasive option if you're chosen as a match for someone," he said. "That's what made me decide to go to and tell someone my story. I wanted to get the word out."

"We are military members. We are people who innately help others in need. I couldn't think of a better group of people who would be interested in donating life."

Both in-person and via social networking sites, Sergeant Livingston said he has been encouraging his family, co-workers and friends to get themselves tested for eligibility.

And his wife, who said she is interested in donating, agrees.

"I would tell people that if they ever thought about trying to become a donor, don't hesitate to call the (C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Bone Marrow Donor Program)," she said. "They will gladly answer all of your questions and concerns. After all, what could be better than knowing you gave a person a chance to live?"