By: Rob Minton
On June 23 I participated in the 2018 UF Health Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion in Gainesville, FL. UF Health, also known as Shands Cancer Center, is where I had my successful stem cell transplant in 2014.
UF Health holds this event every other year to honor their transplant patients, donors, caregivers, families and medical staff. The reunion event also remembers those who have succumbed to their disease or the complications of transplant. This was the first reunion we were able to attend.
The theme of this year’s event was “Life’s Toughest Storms Prove the Strength of Our Anchors.” If you’ve been through transplant, you know you can’t do it by yourself. My wife, Sharon, was my anchor, both in helping get me to transplant and in recovery. I know I would not be here today without her.
Upon arriving at UF Health, we were greeted by several of the nurses that took care of me 3 ½ years ago (and saw me at my very worst during those days right before and after my transplant). What dawned on me was the joy they felt when seeing one of their patients doing well. It made me feel good to see them happy, and, at the same time, I was humbled, knowing that many of the patients they care for do not have the positive outcome that I enjoy.
The event coordinator had asked me to speak at the reunion several weeks before and tell my transplant story. I was able to make that opportunity even better by inviting my donor also to speak with me. Luckily, Clint lives just four hours away in Georgia. I began my address by telling the hundreds of survivors, families and caregivers that today was extra special. Not only were many family members with me, all four of my grandchildren were also there, and that it wasn’t too long ago when I didn’t think I would live to see my grandchildren.
I told the audience of how we learned about my donor’s identity, that Clint, who was my donor, joined the marrow registry through the Salute to Life program while on a tour of duty in the Air Force (he is currently a Master Sgt. in the USAF). And when I brought him up to the stage to talk about his experience being a donor, I became very emotional when the audience gave him a standing ovation. Well deserved, because not only is he a personal hero to me and our family, but also as someone who is serving our country.
After Clint and I were finished speaking, a television reporter with the local Gainesville news station asked if we would be willing to do an interview for that evening’s news. I am very comfortable speaking publicly, but Clint is a little more introverted (maybe “reserved”). However, he agreed and did a fantastic job of telling what it was like to be a donor for someone he knew nothing about. You can see our interview here: http://Celebrating-Bone-Marrow-Transplant-Survivors
By this time in the day, the grandbabies, the youngest not even two months, had reached their limit, so it was time to go. But it was a great day of celebration and reflection. I left the UF Health event with a renewed commitment to do everything I can to grow the marrow donor registry, so that more people will have the opportunity to save someone’s life, the way Clint had saved mine.