In late 2015, Marshall Matlock reached a huge milestone: Five years after a life-saving bone marrow transplant, he remains cancer-free! The healthy cells his body now produces came to him from a total stranger – a young woman who lives halfway around the world.
It’s an amazing feeling to be walking around with my donor’s cells inside me,” he said. “It’s a daily reminder of the sacrifice she made and how much I owe her for saving my life. She is the single person on earth with whom I have a 1:1 relationship; I have her DNA, her blood type, even her allergies.
Marshall’s story began with a leukemia diagnosis in 2009. When chemotherapy failed to suppress the cancer, his doctors told him that a bone marrow transplant was his only hope.
Like 70 percent of all patients in need of a donor, I had no genetic matches in my family, so we looked to worldwide marrow donor registries,” he explained. “I was lucky. Within a few weeks, I received word that they’d found a perfect match, a 19-year-old girl in Europe.
On the night of the donation, a courier arrived at the hospital with a cooler containing a bag of his donor’s stem cells. “My nurses hooked it up to my IV, just like a normal blood transfusion,” said Marshall. “My care team called it my new birthday."
The transplant not only helped cure Marshall, it inspired him. A short time later, he created The Swab Squad – an organization that works to give more blood cancer patients the second chance at life that Marshall was so grateful to receive.
“I wanted to help grow the pool of potential donors. More than half of the patients out there never find the match they need,” he said. “The Swab Squad is a portable, pop-up marrow drive, a way to dispel myths around the transplant process and recruit new donors to sign up. We want every patient to get the chance to fight.”
In September, 2011, two years after his transplant, Marshall and his donor, Carolin, were able to contact one another. And in January 2016, they met each other face-to-face for the first time!
I was finally able tell her ‘Thank you for giving me the gift of life.’