Student donor saves life

Seattle junior Dillon Gasper donated peripheral blood stem cells for Billy Allison, a stage-four leukemia patient from Missouri. Allison had been given a week to live before Gasper’s donation.  (Courtesy Photo)
Seattle junior Dillon Gasper donated peripheral blood stem cells for Billy Allison, a stage-four leukemia patient from Missouri. Allison had been given a week to live before Gasper’s donation. (Courtesy Photo)
Claire Cameron

A Baylor student saved a cancer patient’s life with mere drops of stem cell blood.

Seattle junior Dillon Gasper ran a 5k race for the Waco Miracle Match Marathon in 2012 and at the end of the race decided to join the registry to be a bone marrow donor.

“I had given blood before and I thought ‘Sure, why not?’” Gasper said.

Three months later, Gasper was called saying he was a match for Billy Allison, a 65-year-old Missouri resident who suffered from stage-four leukemia.

“I was shocked that I was called so soon after I registered,” Gasper said. “Out of the 10 million people on the list, I was a match.”

Gasper said the process for becoming a bone marrow donor involved a lot of paperwork and additional blood tests to make sure he was a match.

“They check to make sure your white blood cells are a match because the doctors want to be sure that it will be a successful transplant,” Gasper said.

Gasper described the process as “transferring an immune system.”

He said the danger with the transfer procedure for the patient with cancer is that the bone marrow recipient might reject the donor’s marrow.

“If you’re not a perfect match for that patient and you transfer white blood cells, those cells will reject the patient’s body and start attacking their organs because that’s their job — to protect the body against foreign objects,” Gasper said.

Gasper went through multiple blood and DNA tests to make sure he was a perfect match.

He was, and only a few weeks later, Gasper went to Dallas to donate bone marrow.

“It was actually nice,” Gasper said. “The donor recipient and Carter Blood Center paid for everything, including all my meals and a hotel for me to stay at.”

Gasper said six days before his procedure to donate, he was given six shots to produce more bone marrow blood cells.

“They give you those shots so your body can produce an excess amount of those cells so that when you donate you aren’t depleting your own body’s supply too much,” Gasper said.

He said the actual process of donating was almost painless.

“People have a misperception that the procedure will be really painful,” Gasper said. “In reality it’s not more painful then a few needle pricks.”

Gasper said his procedure was the most common form of donating marrow, where only the peripheral blood stem cells are taken and not the actual bone marrow.

“My procedure is the one that happens about 80 percent of the time,” Gasper said. “The one that is painful is where they put you under general anesthesia and take bone marrow from your hip. It is less common, but that’s the one everyone thinks of when you say you donated bone marrow.”

Gasper said when he donated, his blood was filtered through a machine 12 times while it extracted the bone marrow blood cells.

“The whole thing took about three hours,” Gasper said, “I just read a book to pass the time.”

Gasper said in total he donated about 5 milliliters of blood, which is less than donating blood in a blood drive, where people donate two pints of blood.

“I really don’t think it was as energy draining as giving blood,” Gasper said. “Afterward it felt like I had worked out, but I wasn’t too drained or tired.”

Gasper also had the opportunity to meet the patient who received his donation.

“I found him on Facebook after I had donated,” Gasper said. “We talked a bit but getting to meet him in person was unreal.”

Allison said he told Gasper he loved him.

“I was told I had seven days left to live and then the doctor told me that they had found one match on the registry and that was Dillon.”

The pair got to meet in person this summer at Roxy Grove Hall where Allison gave Gasper a gold watch to represent the time Gasper had given Allison.

“He gave me more time to live,” Allison said.

Gasper said that day was one of his favorite memories.

“It was mind-blowing to meet him in person,” Gasper said. “It was such an emotional high.”

Gasper is so passionate about donating blood and bone marrow that he and Eunice, La., sophomore Lynzi Glasscock started the Be The Match group on campus.

“Be the Match is an organization with different chapters across the nation that work with bone marrow donation centers to help raise awareness and get more college kids to join the registry,” Glasscock said.

Glasscock said college students are targeted to be bone marrow donors because they are the perfect age where they are not too young to donate, but they are still youthful and have healthier bone marrow than people in their 30s or older.

“It’s important for students to know and be involved,” Glasscock said. “When you register and are chosen as a donor, you are that patient’s last chance. You really do save that person’s life.”

Baylor’s chapter of the Be The Match program just got chartered this week, Gasper said.

“I’m excited to get our group started and begin getting more people involved,” he said.

Gasper said he was looking forward to getting students on campus involved and signed up to be a bone marrow donors.

“I’m really passionate about this,” Gasper said. “I want to raise awareness and get more people on the registry and to understand what it means to be a donor.”

Gasper said Be the Match will come to Baylor Nov. 25- 26, where students can get more information about being a donor or fundraising for blood and bone marrow donations.