Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bone marrow donor Lisa Walton, of Seneca,  received a Health Care Hero  award from Smith Center for Cardiovascular Wellness Thursday, May 12, at the Carolina First Center.

Bone Marrow Donor Lisa Walton Receives Health Care Hero Award


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             6/13/2011

                                                                                                  (By Lisa Garrett)

         SENECA --- It had been 15 years since Lisa Walton, a medical technologist at Oconee Medical Center and Tri-County Technical College adjunct Medical Laboratory Technology instructor, placed her name on the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) registry.

         Throughout the years, she periodically received mailings from the organization -- letters asking for personal data updates and newsletters filled with stories about individuals who have given the hope of a longer and better life to someone suffering from various forms of leukemia and lymphoma.

         After someone joins the national registry, names are placed in a national database.  But when Walton received a letter from the NMDP last October, she thought it was promotional material.  "I didn't expect the words I read," she said.  "They wanted updated health information from me and told me I was a possible match for a lady who has Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.   I never in a million years expected to read those words," said the Seneca resident. 

         She complied with their request, and a week before Thanksgiving, she received a call on her cell phone from the NMDP registry.  She had been identified as a finalist. 

         "I had made it to the next stage," she said.  "What an unlikely opportunity and such a privilege.  How could I not say yes?" she asked.  She gave a blood sample in December and was tested against the recipient.  "I had a 1 in 12 chance of matching.  It was then I learned she was 50 years old.  I prayed that the best person would be the match.  But I surely didn't think I would be the one."

         A medical technologist with 22 years of hospital lab experience, Walton says every time she suspects leukemia in a blood smear under the microscope, it gives her pause. 

         "It makes me so sad when diagnostic tests reveal this potentially deadly disease and I know the pathologist will give someone information that will change his or her personal life forever." 

         On January 15, 2011, she had worked a shift at the hospital and when she got home she found a Federal Express package from NMDP waiting on her.  The letter read, 'Thank you for your willingness to donate PBSC stem cells for a 50-year-old woman.'

         The next letter in the packet stated that the physician requested that the donation take place in early February.  The purpose of a bone marrow transplant is to put healthy stem cells in place of the unhealthy ones. This can treat or even cure the disease.

         "I was overwhelmed with the fact that I have the privilege to do this for someone," she said. "I'm blessed and privileged to participate in this experience."

         She prepared for the procedure over a five-day period by receiving 10 injections of a medication that causes stem cells to move out of the bone marrow and into the blood.

         She traveled to a Falls Church, Virginia, clinic where she got ready for the procedure.  Instead of drawing marrow from her hip while under local anesthesia, the procedure was done by apheresis, whereby blood is taken from the body and cells are separated and PBSX stem cells are harvested.  For the stem cell collection, the donor is connected to a machine by a needle inserted in the vein (like for blood donation). Blood is taken from the vein, filtered by the machine to collect the stem cells, then returned back to the donor through a needle in the other arm.  Walton was awake during the four-hour procedure, which she said was painless.  There is almost no need for a recovery time with this procedure.

         NMDP paid all of the expenses for the procedure.

         The recipient had the donation March 2.   Walton may never hear of her prognosis.

         "God gave me the opportunity to be a donor. There is a 1 in 20,000 chance to match.  I was a 6 - 6 match for tissue type. That's the best match you can be, especially outside of the family."

         She says she shared her journey with students she was teaching in a hematology class.  "The first week of teaching about bone marrow, I got the opportunity to tell them first hand about this incredible experience of mine.  So few have the opportunity to share this experience that is directly related to what you are teaching," she said.

         She enjoys the balance of bringing real-life experience to the classroom from her career as a medical technologist at OMC.

         "I like having my foot in both worlds.  Being a teacher makes me a better technologist.  Being a health care provider makes me a better teacher.  It's a privilege to do both," she said.

         She hopes to get an update on the recipient one day.  She also hopes to arrange for a bone marrow drive on campus in the future.  "It's so easy to be checked - just a DNA swab from inside the cheek," she said.

         "I still am overwhelmed when I think of this," she said.

         It also had an effect on her hospital co-worker, a nurse, Jo Beth Messick, who nominated her for a Health Care Hero award sponsored by GSA Business. There were 75 nominees in six different categories. 

         Walton was named a Health Care Hero in the Health Care Professional category.  She represented Oconee Medical Center and Tri-County.  The award was presented by Smith Center for Cardiovascular Wellness. Thursday, May 12, at the Carolina First Center.


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