Extra credit project turns into life-giving experience

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - An extra credit project five years ago in college recently became an opportunity to give someone a second shot at life for a Lexington woman.

Ashley Warren, 25, says just a few weeks ago she received a phone call from the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) registry. She says she had almost forgot that she signed up on the national database for bonus points in a microbiology class at the University of South Carolina.

"It was the difference between a B+ and an A on one exam, and I asked the teacher for extra credit and they said I could go sign up to be on the marrow registry, and so I did it," said Ashley.

Ashley said from the time she signed up to now, several things have changed in her life.  "I got married, moved three times, my husband is in the military so we were moving all across the nation, [and I] changed my last name," she added. Ashley's now also an emergency room nurse at Lexington Medical Center. She says with all the changes that's why she was even more surprised to receive the phone call from NMDP. "It was like oh wow, this must not be real… they probably just want me to update some things," she said.

But Ashley said it wasn't long before she realized officials at the NMDP weren't just catching up. "They were like, 'You're a preliminary match, so you need to go do more testing,' and then I was like, 'Oh gosh… this is real'," added Ashley.

Ashley says all she was told about the donation request was that somewhere there was a middle-aged woman she had never met whose own marrow was failing her, but she says that's all she needed to know. "I just keep thinking about her and she's had a little more life than me, so she probably has family and kids and people who are relying on her and who have just as much hope in her getting cured as she does," added Ashley.

The day after her confirmatory testing, Ashley learned she was the mystery woman's perfect match. "I just thought because I was adopted later in life that what are the odds that I'd be matched with someone," said Ashley. "I probably wouldn't match my family so if anyone in my family ever got sick, who would do it for them?" she added.

Ashley went through a physical which meant more needles, pregnancy tests, radiology studies and EKGs. She was placed on an iron supplement and a few weeks later was flown to Washington, D.C. for the donation.

"The hope is that my bone marrow which is healthy will take over in her body and start making healthy bone marrow," said Ashley.

Ashley says her experience was a lot less painful than she expected. She says she was under anesthesia, and doctors took a little more than a liter of bone marrow through two incisions at the top of her pelvis. "I remember feeling nauseous and feeling some mild pain in my back, but they took really good care of it," said Ashley. "It wasn't long before I had pain medication and nausea medication."

Ashley may not know the outcome of her donation or who the recipient was for some time. "In a year or so if I'm willing and she's willing and there was a cure that occurred, then we might have an opportunity to cross paths one day," she said.

While she hopes for that day, she's hoping more people will now sign up on the national registry.

"Who knows, maybe in five years, maybe in six months, you'll be called and have the possibility of helping save a life," said Ashley. "Now that I'm a nurse and have been through it and know more about it, I would have done it without extra credit," she laughed.

Ashley also blogged about her donation experience. http://ashleyembeeshaw.blogspot.com/ She says while several people have told her she is a bit of a hero, she doesn't feel that way. "I don't really feel like I'm a hero. I feel like I did what it took to help someone to live, and I don't really think that is heroic or brave," said Ashley. "I just think it's just one of those things that God kind of aligned for me to do. You know I just felt like that was part of my purpose at this point in my life," she added.

If you want to learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor visit www.bethematch.org.

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