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ANG Airman leads marrow donor registration effort

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman John E. Hillier
  • Air National Guard Readiness Center Public Affairs
Any Airman can save a life. It doesn't require one to be a firefighter or pararescueman. Regardless of their job in the Air Force, any Airman can do it - the only thing required is the genetic code locked within each person's DNA.

In the summer of 2014, Senior Master Sgt. Paul Duit donated bone marrow to a leukemia patient in need of a transplant. In the months since, his new passion is spreading awareness about the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, and educating Airmen about how easy it is for them to share in the experience of saving a life.

"The feeling I got from donating was such an eye opening experience," said Duit. "For me not to have to do anything except be myself, and possibly save somebody's life - that made me feel like there was more purpose in my life. You never know down the road if you or a loved one or somebody who you know might need it. The more people there are on the list, the better the chances are of finding a match for the recipient."

The program, also known as Salute to Life, is the coordinating agency for registering and contacting DoD members, civilians, and their spouses who volunteer for the donor list. Registering to be a donor takes only a few minutes. Potential donors fill out a form with contact information, so they can be reached in case they are a match for someone. Then, they swab the inside of their cheeks to collect DNA samples that are analyzed and put into the program's database. Those samples are digitally stored in a database so that in the future they can be matched up with someone in need.

"It's very simple to register," said Duit. "The hardest part is filling out the form. They want to know your address and contact info, then two people who could find you."

Members are medically eligible to donate marrow from ages 18 through 60, so there could be a long span of time between registering for the list and any potential donation. Duit was contacted six years after he joined the list.

"I signed up when I was at the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy about six years ago, and then forgot about it," said Duit. "Then one day, I received an email that said I was a potential match for someone. Because it's a DOD donor program, as long as you're still in the military they can find out how to contact you."

To respect individuals' privacy, both donors and recipients are initially not told much information about each other.

"I was told that [my recipient is] a 53 year-old woman from Hong Kong with leukemia, and that was the extent of it," said Duit. "It's the same for her as well. She knows that her donor is a male in America. The act of donating is a privilege. It's a big deal I think to find that you're a match. And once I heard that I was potentially a match, it's hard to say no. There's somebody out there who needs me to help them, and all I have to do is go through a little pain. As it turned out, I didn't even have any pain."

While Duit is pleased with the response he's received from ANGRC members, he would like to see the program catch on throughout the Air National Guard.

"I've done about 50 registration kits so far. I first got started right after the surgery. I couldn't sleep, I was so excited. I came here and I started hitting up everybody. I walked up and down the aisle, going cubicle to cubicle talking to everybody I could. My intent is to get every Guard unit aware of it, and see if every unit might find a volunteer to be a point of contact like I am here."

Many of the people who hear Duit tell his story are inspired to register for the list. While they all have their own reasons, the ability to save lives is a strong motivator.

"I've personally been affected by someone who needed a bone marrow transplant, but he passed away before I could be screened. He went very quickly," said Tech. Sgt. Eric Masciulli, ANG vehicle fleet manager assistant. "I've felt compelled to do this ever since, but never found the right opportunity. There was no excuse for me here today though, so I gladly did it. You just do the four swabs and sign the consent form. It's really easy."

For more information about the C.W. Bill Young DOD Marrow Donor Program at the ANGRC or to register for the list, please contact Senior Master Sgt. Paul Duit at 240-612-9912.