Three years ago when Jake Kasper, 26, added his name to the National Marrow Donor Program registry, he knew it was a long shot that he would ever be called to donate his stem cells.
Much to his surprise and satisfaction, he was chosen as a donor. In October, he underwent a medical procedure that gave a cancer patient this gift of hope and a second chance at life.
Kasper knows the age, sex and medical condition of his stem cell recipient, but privacy laws keep him from sharing this information. However, after a year passes — and if both he and the recipient agree — their identities will be revealed to each other.
“It’s absolutely important to me that we meet up someday,” Kasper said. “I’m just glad that I was able to help somebody have another chance at life.”
Kasper is humble about his selfless act and said he views the whole donation process as just one more opportunity to help another person. His mother, Carol Kasper, said that her son has always gone out of his way for others, but she was surprised when she learned that he had signed up to donate his stem cells.
“When it got close to the actual donation procedure I was a little nervous for him,” his mother said.
“His dad (Chuck Kasper) and I are very proud that Jake would do something like this. Jake’s cousin had donated a kidney to his father (her brother-in-law), and I know they talked a lot about it,” she added. “That may have encouraged Jake to take the first step in the process.”
Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation is one of two methods of collecting blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. The same blood-forming cells that are found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating (peripheral) blood.
Jake explained that his PBSC donation was obtained through an outpatient, nonsurgical procedure called apheresis. The actual procedure, which took about eight hours, was performed at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis — a participating hospital in PBSC collections for the “Be the Match” program.
During the four days leading up to his actual donation, Kasper received an injection of a drug called filgrastim, which increases the number of blood-forming cells — also called blood stem cells — in the body. He continued to work at his job at Cellular One in Danville during those four days, and only took vacation time on the day of the procedure.
Kasper said during the procedure his blood was removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that collects only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood was returned to him through a needle inserted in his other arm.
After his donation was completed, the blood-forming cells were transported to another medical facility where they were transplanted into the recipient.
As was expected, Kasper said he felt tired and his bones and muscles hurt after his four days of injections. But unlike some donors who have a recovery period, he had little to no side effects after the actual epheresis procedure.
“My red blood count was a little low, but other than that I felt fine,” he said, adding that the hardest part of the procedure was keeping his arms perfectly still for all those hours.
His fiancée Taylor Rich fed him lunch and kept him company during the entire time, and Kasper said that he was pleased to be able to drive back to Danville from Indianapolis shortly after his procedure was completed.
“My family has been very supportive of me doing this,” Kasper said, “but some of my friends were a little surprised.” He added that he has never personally known anyone who donated their stem cells to someone they didn’t know.
After signing up with the Bone Marrow Registry several years ago, Kasper was required to mail in a cheek swab in order to determine his tissue type. About one out of every 540 members on the registry are called to further their chances of making a donation, and the numbers are whittled down even more after the possible donor undergoes some additional medical tests. Donors must be free of certain illnesses, and younger donors between the ages of 18 and 44 are preferred.
Donors never pay for donating and are never paid to donate, and once a donor turns 61, he or she is removed from the list.
Once a person is contacted with a possible match, the entire process can take 30 to 40 hours over about a six-week period.
Even though Kasper could have changed his mind about donating any time during the process, it never occurred to him.
“I figured if I could help someone by doing this, then I might as well go ahead with it,” he said.
Kasper is a graduate of Schlarman Academy, and he attended Danville Area Community College.
For more information on PBSC donation, go to http://www.bethematch.org.