Guest Outpost blog by Stephen McKinney-Whitaker
In just a few hours, I’ll have surgery. I don’t need it, but I need to do it. I’m having surgery to remove some of my bone marrow in order for it to be given to someone else. Who? I don’t know. All I know is that he is 29 and dying.
Last September, our church hosted a bone marrow drive through Be the Match. We hosted this drive because two of our members have received life-saving stem cell or bone marrow transplants. Their stories inspired us to host a drive to connect more potential donors to those in need of a transplant. I got swabbed as did many of our members. In March, I was called and told I may be a match for someone. After a series of tests it was confirmed that out of everyone in the donor registry across the world, I was the best match for this young man.
As I have prepared to donate my bone marrow, many people have asked me, “Why are you doing this?” I’ve thought a lot about my answer and why I’m giving.
I signed up to be a donor at our drive last year because I personally knew two people whose lives were saved because someone else decided they would tike the 15 minutes to get swabbed and register with Be the Match. My prayers for these two faithful friends and members of this church were answered through someone else’s willingness to donate. I thought maybe I’d be the answer to someone else’s prayer for his or her mother, father, spouse or child. I didn’t really think I’d ever get matched with anyone, but I thought it was the right thing to do.
It became more real when I got the phone call and heard that I may be a match for someone and was asked if I was still willing to be a donor. I was one of 10 people they wanted to do more tests on to determine who would be the best match for this completely unknown individual. I tend to have a strong sense of duty, so my first response was, “Of course I’ll still donate. I signed up, after all.” But I also thought about Verity, my little girl. What if at some point in her life she needed some kind of transplant: bone marrow, stem cell or organ. I would want every single person in the world to register as a donor in the hopes that someone may be the match that could save her life. If I felt that way about my daughter, then I’m sure someone felt the same way about this 29-year-old young man.
While I was on vacation in the Northeast, I got the call that I was the best match for this young man and that they wanted to do the surgery soon because it was a very desperate situation. He wasn’t going to be able to survive much longer without a bone marrow transplant.
I went to Iowa City to make sure I was healthy enough to donate, and I learned more about the operation and the recovery. My surgery is tomorrow. I will probably be sore and fatigued for a few days. The average time to a full recovery is 20 days. Twenty days. Am I willing to trade 20 days of perhaps not 100% health so that someone could potentially have many more years of health?
Why am I giving? For all those reasons above, but mainly this: I am giving because I can. I have enough of what someone else desperately needs. It will not be any great sacrifice to give some of what I have, but it will mean the very life of someone else. It will mean hope. I can give and make a profound difference in someone’s life. Why wouldn’t I give? It would be wasteful, irresponsible and a shame not to give. Honestly, for me, I think it would be a sin not to give of what I have enough of to someone else who has none.
It’s stewardship: the wise and graceful use of the resources and gifts that have been given to me. I give out of the health I’ve been given. It’s why I give.
STEPHEN McKINNEY-WHITAKER is pastor and head of staff and United Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Illinois.
Update: It’s been a month since my surgery now. I am back to 100 percent health, but I know the young man I donated to has a much harder road. I will never know his name, but I hope to hear he is alive and doing well in about six months. I experienced some fatigue and I experienced some pain, but most of all I experienced joy: the joy of giving, the joy of sharing, the joy of knowing someone was so happy to receive a gift I could give.
I love the Greek word charis. We typically translate it “grace,” but it can be translated “gift” or “thanks.” Sometimes you don’t know whether it’s being given as in thanks, being received as in grace, or being given as in a gift. But sometimes, in some very special moments, it is all three. I experienced one of those times. It was a gift. It was thanks. It was grace.
Thanks be to God for the grace to give and to receive even in the giving.