Jake Douglas, who graduated in June, holds up the bone marrow cells he donated to save a 59-year-old woman dying from leukemia.
July 20, 2015
CHICAGO - Times of crisis often bring out the best in humanity, and that's exactly what happened for DePaul soccer player Jake Douglas.
Douglas, a senior defender who graduated in June, underwent a demanding and sometimes painful process of donating his bone marrow cells to help save the life of a 59-year-old woman who was dying from leukemia.
This lifesaving journey began in May of 2014 when Douglas stopped by the Be The Match Bone Marrow Drive booth at the Student Center and gave a saliva swab.
No big deal, he thought. He gave the sample and completely forgot about it.
Last January, he was in class when his cell phone received a call from a random number. The bone marrow registry left an urgent message saying Jake could be a possible match.
"I didn't call back for a little bit, kind of processed it," Douglas said. "After a while, it was like, what's the worst that could happen? I called back and they said my sample matches someone preliminarily and would I be interested in giving blood and having that blood sample tested.
"I said sure. I went to a clinic Downtown and donated eight vials of blood. It was pretty easy. They said it would be sent away and I would hear about the results.
"About a week later, they gave me a call and said I am a really good match. 'Be on standby because we may ask you to go further with this. You're an athlete, you're in good shape and your levels are very good.' I had a lot of good qualities they were looking for and I matched the lady very well."
Douglas found out that in the doctor's opinion, he was the best match. Douglas listened intently to all the details of the process.
"I thought to myself: `I have this opportunity to do something for someone else,'" Douglas said. "'If I needed it or someone in my family needed this, I would want the kid in my position to go through with it.'
"I made my decision during the phone call. You play the scenarios in your mind about what if they call and ask you to do it. I'd thought about it a lot before, and once they called and asked for real, I can do this---I want to do this.
"I talked to my parents first and told them about it, and they were very supportive. They said 'this is you, and if you want to do this, we'll be behind you the whole way.'
"I talked to my roommates (soccer teammates Curtis Weir, Anthony Hunter, Art Garza) and they said 'it's kind of heavy, but if you need anything from us while you're going for it, we got your back.'"
There are two ways of donating. Younger children and older patients don't have enough marrow cells in their bones circulating through the body, so they undergo this surgically and scrape off the bone from their hips.
Since Douglas is a 22 year-old athlete, he went the other route receiving a series of shots over the first five days in March that caused his body to overproduce bone marrow cells. It got more and more painful as the process went on with the bone cells so tightly packed in his bones.
The fifth day, Douglas received the final injection at a donation site in suburban Rosemont. His dad flew in from Texas to be with him during the procedure.
He had a thick needle stuck in his right arm and a catheter in his left hand. His blood was circulated five times through until there were enough cells to donate. He had to sit still and couldn't move for four hours.
"It was pretty weird," Douglas said. "You see your blood going through all the machines, into a bag, back up and into my hand. I was lucky they had a TV there and I watched SportsCenter four times in a row. I got pretty tired of watching TV after that.
"The first 20 minutes is like, wow, I'm actually doing this. This is cool. After an hour, I was tired of just sitting there and I couldn't feel my legs anymore. After 2½ hours my arm started to cramp up, so they had to put an icepack on it.
"Finally, the last 30 minutes were a breeze. Blink your eyes and you're done. They showed me a bag with all my cells in it, and I have a picture of me holding all my cells. They don't let you get up for a while because your blood has been rushing all around your body. When I stood up, I felt a little light-headed and fell down, so I sat for another half hour or so."
Douglas said he was a little woozy the next couple of days and couldn't work out or run. He wasn't able to eat much but forced down a lot of fluids.
"I wanted to know how the person I donated to was faring," Douglas said. "It's pretty strict about releasing information with all the HIPPA regulations and stuff. They give you an update after one month and after five months. After a year, you and the donor recipient can sign consent forms to be able to meet each other.
"I don't know the person I donated to. All I know is she's a 59-year-old woman with terminal leukemia and this was her last shot. All along, they wanted to make sure I was going through with it. Even on the last day they asked and I said yes.
"What they do for the woman is completely wipe out her immune system and put her on life support until they get my cells. Soon as I was done, they had a courier there who took my cells in ice and transported it to where the woman was so they could put them in her immediately."
Douglas received word on July 9 that the he cells he donated have grafted to her successfully and she has been released from the hospital in good condition.
"I'm proud of myself to be able to say I did that," Douglas said. "I think that's really cool. Going through the process, there was never a point where I was like, man, I don't know if I can do this. The whole time it was, yeah, it's no big deal.
"I absolutely think being an athlete played a big role in pushing through and being able to do it. Being an athlete over the years, you're faced with a lot of obstacles---whether mental or physical---like balancing schoolwork or going through really hard fitness to be ready for the season. Going over those hurdles was a factor in being able to do this.
"I remember thinking: `I can sit here with a needle in my arm for four hours if it means saving a person's life.'
"From an athlete's perspective, you're able to see the benefits of it. If I work this hard and endure this, the rewards will far outweigh the pain. The good I can do for someone else by going through this pain is definitely worth it."
One day next spring, there's a very good chance this real-life hero will get to meet the person he saved.
"It's going to be really interesting to meet the woman, and I will look forward to it," Douglas said. "I will definitely sign the consent form.
"When we meet each other, I imagine she would say thank you. It's just something I felt compelled to do because I had this opportunity.
"I think it would be really neat to meet her and understand what she has gone through over the years. I'm sure the little bit of pain I had to endure to give her my cells is nothing compared to all the pain she has gone through being a leukemia survivor."