Captain gets shot at saving man's life
For the second time in three years, a member of the 12th Missile Squadron here has come to the aid of someone they've never met before via the Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program...


By Valerie Mullett, 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
Posted Friday, September 29, 2006

  
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MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- For the second time in three years, a member of the 12th Missile Squadron here has come to the aid of someone they've never met before via the Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.

Capt. Matthew Leardini, a deputy combat crew commander for the Red Dawgs, as the crew is called, was contacted in November 2005 and told he was a 30-percent match for a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant.

The odds of finding a match are high. The odds of two matches coming from the same missile squadron at Malmstrom are even higher.

"I was truly amazed," said Lt. Col. Scott Fox, 12th MS commander. "Given how rare finding an exact bone marrow match seems to be, it seems like the odds of having two people from the Red Dawgs in three years would be astronomical. I am so proud."

Neither missileer ever second-guessed their choice to be donors.

"This is a really good feeling," Captain Leardini said in an interview before he left for the procedure in July. "I hope it all works out for him."

Before the donation could take place, the captain went to the clinic here to have blood samples drawn per instructions in the kit provided by the DoD Marrow Donor Program personnel. The blood samples were sent off to be tested and in early February, he was notified he was the best possible match for a young man with Hodgkin's Disease. The recipient was undergoing other avenues of treatment at the time.

"They called me to tell me I was a match, but they didn't need me right then," he said. "The transplant was on hold."

He was contacted again in April and informed the recipient would, in fact, need a transplant, so plans got underway for a trip to Georgetown University Hospital in Washintgon, D.C., in mid-May. Once there, he would undergo more testing to ensure he would be able to withstand the procedure planned - a peripheral blood stem cell transplant.

This procedure is different from the traditional marrow donations of the past where the bone marrow is extracted from the donor's hip bones. The PBSC emulates an apheresis blood donation.

June 24 to 28 were the magic dates when Captain Leardini and his wife, Michelle, headed back to Georgetown to do what they could to save a life. The first four days were spent "growing" the stem cells and on the fifth day, the donation took place.

"They gave me a shot of filgrastim in the back of each arm each day. It felt like I was getting a flu shot," the captain recalled. "I had no real side effects the first two days. By the third day, I had some reactions - headache, back spasms and other flu-like symptoms - that were all considered 'normal' reactions to the injections."

"I was a little nervous about how the shots would make him feel - whether he was going to be really sick or not," said the captain's wife.

The purpose of the injections was to multiply the number of white cells he was manufacturing in a very rapid amount of time, he explained.

On the final day, he was hooked up to an apheresis machine for approximately six hours while plasma and white blood cells were removed and the remaining blood parts were recirculated back into his bloodstream.

"It was very easy, but I couldn't move my arms at all during this time," he said of his experience. "And once I was finished, a courier came and took it [the donation] somewhere. All I know is the patient is an 18-year-old male with Hodgkin's Disease."

Mrs. Leardini was by his side through the whole procedure.

"Giving part of himself to help someone we don't even know was very inspirational to me," she said. "It's something we can tell our son when he gets older to teach him an important life lesson."

A well-deserved vacation followed for the Leardinis with good news awaiting them when they returned.

"I did learn the day after I got home that the transplant was a success," said Captain Leardini. "I also just learned that the patient is still doing well and has been discharged from medical facility."

All of this might not have been possible without the support he received from his co-workers in the 12th MS.

"I think it is very important to be supportive of these opportunities to help out others in need. It is also just as important to let our Airmen know these opportunities exist," Colonel Fox said.

So, while November to June may seem like a long time between notification and donation, saving a life has no timeline. It only has a happy ending.

Will Captain Leardini ever find out more about the life he just saved?

"I understand that after a year, we have the option of exchanging information ... I'll be willing to do so," the captain said.

For more information about the DoD Marrow Donor Program, call toll-free (800) 627-7693 or visit the National Marrow Donor Program Web site at www.marrow.org. The site contains information about the DoD program and upcoming recruitment drives.

This story may have one more chapter to add.

Editor's Note: In June 2003, then 1st Lt. Janelle Rust, 12th MS, received a phone call from the DoD Marrow Donor Program telling her she was the best match for a 3-year-old girl with severe aplastic anemia. Lieutenant Rust agreed to donate and had a pint of bone marrow removed from her left hip, also at the Georgetown University Hospital.

In August, 2004, she was contacted and asked if she wanted to share personal information which eventually led her meeting the little girl whose life she had saved, along with her ever-grateful parents during a bone marrow conference in Washington, D.C., in January 2005.


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