People of SU

Saving a Life

Written by Mollie Hanke, Athletics

October 21, 2013

campus tree with leaves illuminated by sunlight

2010 graduate Megan McIsaac donates bone marrow for a young boy.

Few people can truly attest that they've helped save a life, but Megan MacIsaac, a 2010 graduate of Seattle University and four year letter winner on the Redhawk softball team, can do just that. 

"I signed up for the bone marrow registry about three years ago when they were doing a drive for a local three year old girl with leukemia," says the Santa Barbara, Calif. native. At the time, she just had a simple cheek swab done to see if she might be a match, but she decided to take things a step further. 

MacIsaac remembers, "At the marrow drive, we had the option to join the national registry. I decided to join because I figured if I was willing to donate to this local girl who I didn't even know, why wouldn't I donate to someone else?" 

A couple of years passed by as MacIsaac started her professional career, altogether forgetting that she had signed up for the national registry through a program called "Be the Match", until she received a "one in two million" type of phone call. 

"When I first got the call, I thought it was a prank," MacIsaac remembers, laughing to herself. "I actually cut the woman off halfway through the medical survey. But then I called her back two days later once I got a grip on myself." 

As the odds are close to one in two million that a donor would be an actual match for someone who is not directly related to them, despite the unexpected phone call, MacIsaac never expected what would come next. 

"My doctor said that he had been in the registry for 35 years and had never gotten a call. One of my co-workers has been called twice for being a potential match, but was never compatible after additional testing." 

She drove down to Pasadena twice for a four-hour total body physical at the City of Hope Hospital and a third time for additional testing and a meeting with an anesthesiologist. During the additional testing, it was discovered that she was indeed a match for an eight year old boy in the United States. 

There are two ways of collecting bone marrow from donors, one of which is called aphaeresis, a 4-6 hour process where blood is drawn from the donor's arm in order to collect stem cells. The second method, a bone marrow harvest, was the one MacIsaac underwent. 

"The bone marrow harvest is where doctors go into your bone and withdraw the actual marrow from the back of the pelvis. You are put to sleep, then they go in through the lower back with a needle and pull about two teaspoons of marrow with a syringe, and they do about 15-20 pulls per hip. They go in through the same hole each time, but must prick a different part of the bone, so it can be pretty painful with sore nerves, muscles, and bones afterward." 

After a procedure which lasted around an hour and a half, she was moved to a recovery room for a couple hours and then to her own private room for the rest of the day. 

"I was in a lot of pain directly following the procedure and was hobbling around for two to three days, but my procedure was on a Friday so I had the weekend to recover." 

But for MacIsaac, the momentary pain she underwent is more than worth it. 

"It feels great to have been able to help someone in this way. I feel strangely connected to this boy, like he is my son or brother. And really, he is my little genetic twin out there, even before I gave him my marrow."