By Staff Sgt. Heather Denby, 25th Sustainment Brigade:
(El Paso, Texas, Sept. 14, 2017)
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Heimstead had only been in Hawaii for a few weeks before he received an email that would change the odds of survival for one special person.
“My lab results showed that I was an excellent match,” said Heimstead, the 25th Sustainment Brigade surgeon cell noncommissioned officer in charge. “I had done a lot of research on bone marrow transplants and it turns out that only 38 percent of those in need are able to find someone suitable to donate, so I knew this was something very special.”
Heimstead participated in a bone marrow sample drive while stationed at Fort Bliss in 2010. He went on to Fort Benning, Ga., where he served as a drill sergeant for a couple years and later as a senior operations NCO.
“I really hadn’t given the sample donation much thought after I did it,” he said.
Seven years had passed before personnel found the match.
There are several steps toward ensuring a bone marrow match is made, according to the National Marrow Donor Program website. The steps are spread over several weeks and ensure the medical evaluation makes an optimal match.
Only one in 430 people who have registered in the NMDP will go on to donate. As of August, Heimstead is now one of them.
“I thought I was ready for what was to come,” he said. “But nothing can prepare you for what the medicine is going to do to your body. The side effects were a lot of pain, insomnia, and you can’t take anything that is nonsteroidal or anti-inflammatory, because it will affect your platelets. But you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Heimstead’s supervisor, Maj. Paula E. Young, 25th Sust. Bde. surgeon, said she will never forget the sacrifice her Soldier made.
“I remember the disgruntled look on his face every time he would go to sit down or stand up from his desk,” she said. “The medicine that the donors are given build up their bone density, especially in your hips, and it can be quite painful.”
Heimstead’s final step in his bone marrow donation was coordinated through the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Recruitment and Research Program, which flew him to Washington, D.C., where medical personnel collected his stem cells and prepared them for transplant.
“As a medic, I’ve gotten used to being in the field, treating a patient and loading them up for transport,” Heimstead said. “Very rarely do you find out whether that patient survived, what happened, or if you did the right thing on the spot; but this time I knew I had done the right thing.”
“This was one of those times where I could do what I had to do and actually have a really good chance of saving someone’s life,” he said.
Heimstead will have to wait up to a year to find out if the transplant was successful through the MDRR program.