University of Portland information services staff member Tom Ank recently completed a medical procedure that started last fall on a whim. Several months later, he may have saved the life of a complete stranger.
Last fall, Ank convinced several students to sign up for tests to determine whether they would be a match to donate marrow to be used to treat life-threatening cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Ank, a network engineer at UP, says he doesn’t like to ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do. So he also did the cheek swab in the lobby of the University’s Buckley Center, where UP nursing students had set up a testing operation. Three months after the swab, he received an e-mail telling him he had a very rare HLA type and was asked to complete a survey on his family history.
A month later he received a call from Be the Match, an agency which connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. It was March 25, 2013. “The nice lady on the phone directed me to a lab in my area and a bunch of blood was drawn. The folks at the lab told me they do this all the time and rarely does anything come of it,” Ank recalls. On March 29, Good Friday, he was told he was a match. Within a couple of weeks, he flew to California where he would spend five days away from family and friends “to try and save the life of someone with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Someone I have never met.”
During his stay at a cancer center, he received a number shots and his health was monitored. He then was hooked to a machine for six to eight hours to collect his stem cells. “Two days later, on my birthday, this person I’ve never met before received the cells.” It all happens very fast, Ank notes. His nurse told him that it isn’t always finding the match that is a problem, but “finding a willing match.”
“Sometimes you have to travel,” says Ank. “Sometimes you will be hundreds of miles away. But you still have to step forward. No matter what I may have to deal with, the recipient is dealing with worse. That is what made me press forward. I was putting aside work, fun, holidays, and everything else. I was pausing my life to hopefully save another. All I can think at this time is ‘Good luck, man. I hope you make it.’”