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Gift of life: Union City man signs up to donate bone marrow

Gift of life: Union City man signs up to donate bone marrow
Gift of life: Union City man signs up to donate bone marrow | Gift of life: Union City man signs up to donate bone marrow

James Gray
Special Features Editor
It may be that James Gray is the perfect match for an anonymous 3-year-old boy somewhere within a five-hour range of Union City. If so, the simple donation he will be able to provide may mean the difference between life and death for a child who is really still in the baby-step phase of his life’s journey.
But even should Gray prove to be not quite what is needed in this instance, he hopes his story will encourage someone else — someone who might hold the same keys to good health for another human being in desperate need — to step forward and offer an invaluable gift.
That gift is bone marrow. It is the source of blood cell production — about 500 billion of them per day per person — and of lymphocytes, which support the body’s immune system. Bone marrow is a soft, flexible tissue found inside the bones and it makes up only about 4 percent of the total body mass, but it performs a huge function. In addition to serving as the source of life-giving blood and of infection fighters, bone marrow vascalature is essentially a pipeline or conduit to the body’s systemic circulation.
It would be impossible to live without it, but no problem at all to share a little bit of it.
That’s what Gray agreed to do a few years ago when he signed up with the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match® initiative at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Gray became aware of the possibility that he could help save the life of a child or adult diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma or sickle cell because his own extended family was fighting cystic fibrosis. C.F. is not treatable by bone marrow transplants, so Gray was not able to offer this type help to his cousin’s child who was battling that disease, but because of involvement with the family in fund-raising efforts and exploring treatment options, he and his wife Niccole became interested in the Be the Match program.
They learned it was possible to help patients fighting other devastating illnesses. Mrs. Gray, who does title abstract searches for Warner & Warner law firm in Union City, was initially unable to become involved in the program because of some health issues she was facing, but her husband signed up in a  process that involved going online and registering in a few simple steps.
Very soon thereafter, he received a packet in the mail with instructions for providing tissue from the inside of his cheek, using five soft swabs forwarded by the registry. It was simply a matter of running each swab over the tissue in his mouth and returning them in a special Fed Ex envelope that was also provided in the kit. There was no expense, no pain and virtually no time involved.
For quite a while, nothing happened. In fact, Gray says he almost forgot about signing up.
And then, just days ago, he received an email from Be the Match which informed him that there was a desperately ill child whose family and doctor needed to know if he was still interested in being a donor. He called the number provided and spoke to a representative, assuring them he was willing to go to bat for the little boy whose doctor was trying to determine treatment options as quickly as possible to save his life.
It was decided that he would go to a lab in Paducah, Ky., for some additional testing to see if he were still a good match for the child. This time, he was asked to provide blood — six small vials —and to do another cheek swab at the lab. To be considered, he must match the recipient’s blood type, as one of the first steps. DNA testing is also included and he must be clear of certain diseases which the testing will show.
“They took care of everything so quickly,” Gray says, noting that the organization set up the appointment for him and made things as simple as possible. He was asked to provide information about any medications he might be on but was not placed on any type dietary restrictions and was told to go about his regular routine prior to the testing.
He will receive the results of these latest tests within two to four weeks of that appointment and will know if he is still considered a good match. If he is, he will then join the pool of donors who are also possibilities, and the child’s doctor will review all the options and assess the current state of the little patient’s health to know which potential donor is the best match.
If Gray is not selected, he has the option of remaining in the donor program, which he plans to do. Only about 1 in 12 potential donors makes it to the final round, according to the donor website at
If he is the best match, however, he will check into a facility for the outpatient procedure at a time the patient’s doctor deems best for both people involved. There, he will receive general anesthetic and will be totally unaware of the fact that doctors will be drilling a small hole in the back of his pelvic bone and removing about four teaspoons of marrow. When he wakes up, he may have a slight back ache, but that discomfort will fade soon. He will then be eligible to donate again in six months, if he wishes to stay active in the program.
All his expenses will be covered. The chances are good, he believes, that if he is selected, he will be donating at St. Jude. That would be both convenient and familiar for Gray, who is a title abstract supervisor for Shapiro & Kirsch of Memphis and who is in the city about once a week anyway. But should another facility prove to meet the needs of those involved better, he may be asked to travel to another location. Again, all those expenses will be taken care of.
Reice Gray, who is 10, is excited that his father is involved in the program and hopes he will be the perfect match for the child in need. His younger brother and sister — Champ, 8, and Cadence, 6 — are a little too young to understand the magnitude of the gift, but at some point they, too, will come to appreciate the importance of offering something that is both terribly simple and yet valuable beyond the imagining.
Whether he is selected this time or not, Gray hopes his opportunity will spur someone else to offer their own bone marrow.
“I just want to get the word out about it. I hope I can help, but if not me, then maybe by my getting the word out, someone else can be,” he says.
He may never know the child he has offered to be a lifeline for, although the little patient’s parents do have the option of contacting their son’s donor after the procedure has taken place. But he will have the special joy of knowing that, somewhere, a child is learning to ride a bicycle, is sliding into home plate to score the winning run, is taking top honors in his school’s spelling bee or is giving his mom a quick hug and dashing out the door to stir up little-boy adventure because he provided the chance for life to go on.
Editor’s note: For information about the bone marrow donation program, and other types of donation which can save lives, go to
Published in The Messenger 1.29.13