Andrew Greiner prepares to donate his bone marrow for a man suffering from cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Andrew Greiner of Eden didn’t think twice when he had his cheek swabbed during his school’s homecoming game. Little did he know that the simple act would lead him on a journey to help save a man’s life.
“I volunteered for the bone marrow drive,” said Greiner, who is attending Allegheny College in the hopes of becoming a physician’s assistant. “People came up to swab their cheeks and fill out the paperwork and I did it as well, I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
When Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation called Greiner just a few months later, he was shocked.
“They told us it could take up to 10 years (to determine if you are a match). I wasn’t expecting a phone call.” Even more surprising to Greiner was that he beat the slim odds to be an eligible donor.
“I looked up the odds and on websites it varies, but it seems one out of every 650 people (could be an eligible donor).”
When Greiner learned he was a match for a 38-year-old man diagnosed with leukemia, he immediately agreed to help.
“I felt very thankful and blessed that I was the one (who was a match),” he said, adding “I have always donated blood....I have no problems with needles and I find it interesting, because that’s what I want to do is something in the medical field.”
It was initially undetermined if Greiner was a match for the surgical procedure, where marrow is taken from the donor’s pelvic bones, or for peripheral blood cell donation, which involves removing the donor’s blood and passing it through a machine to separate cells to be used for the transplant.
“Either way, whether it was the bone marrow surgery or the blood treatment, I would have done either one,” said Greiner, though it turned out he would undergo the PBSC donation.
While many would consider the donation process to be an unpleasant task, to Greiner, it was an experience of a lifetime.
He was flown out to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City for a patient work-up in order to confirm he was healthy and able to donate.
“I had everything from a chest x-ray to an EKG and blood work...I had all of that completed within a day.”
It was the 19-year-old’s first trip to the Big Apple, and he used the opportunity to sightsee when he was not in the hospital.
“I walked around the city before I had to catch a cab for my flight, it was a great experience,” he said.
Greiner returned to NYC for the PBSC donation in early May. He brought with him the textbooks he would need to study for his finals, which he would take as soon as he returned.
The process included four days of preparation where Greiner was administered shots of Neupogen to make his stem cells easier to retrieve.
“This drug a lot of the time causes severe aches and bone pain. Everyone was really warning me to think about this,” said Greiner. However, Greiner said he experienced no discomfort whatsoever.
On the day of his donation, Greiner ran into a small complication when doctors determined his veins were not wide enough to access.
“They decided to put a central line in my neck,” he said.
Rather than have reservations about the procedure, Greiner said he was “really intrigued.” He saw the experience as a first-hand look into the life of a medical professional.
“Just being in the medical environment was a once in a lifetime experience. I was able to talk to physicians and nurses and see patients next to me.”
Greiner donated over 1 billion stem cells in six hours, spread over a period of two days.
“It was absolutely incredible, I was so glad they surpassed the amount of cells they needed in case they needed back up,” he said.
Greiner is still waiting for update on the status of the patient he helped — a man who now shares the Eden youth’s cells, but is still a stranger.
“I know that he is a 38-year-old male suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia, but not a clue where in the world he is or anything about his family life.”
Greiner sent a letter through the Gift of Life to the patient in the hopes of connecting with him.
“It would be really great to get some sort of update and perhaps one day I could meet him,” he said.
Greiner’s selfless actions has gone on to inspire many of his friends and family. However, he is adamant that the attention he has received is unnecessary.
“I am not some hero. I just feel like a normal person who had a great opportunity to save someone’s life,” he said. “How couldn’t you take that opportunity?”
To learn more about bone marrow donation, visit www.giftoflife.org.