Giving the gift of life

CSB sophomore recognized as 50,000th donor of marrow

January 31, 2012

By Mike Killeen

When Miah Winterfeldt found out her uncle, Aaron Winterfeldt, had lymphoma, she did what many people would do - she wanted to help.

Doctors determined that Miah was a perfect match to donate peripheral blood stem cells. She was ready to donate, but then ...

"He ended up getting too sick and I wasn't able to donate," Miah said of her uncle, who passed away Dec. 18, 2010. "That gave me a different perspective on helping people. If I could give someone more time with their family members that would mean the world."

Fast forward a year and Miah stuck to her word. In November, the College of Saint Benedict sophomore from Shakopee, Minn., donated peripheral blood stem cells to an individual with leukemia. (The patient's name remains anonymous to Miah.)

In December, Miah was identified as the 50,000th donor of marrow through the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which facilitated its first marrow transplant between an unrelated donor and patient in 1987.

"Having a family member with any of the diseases that can be treated through bone marrow transplant is definitely a common motivator to join (the registry)," said Sue Reichling, a workup specialist for the Be The Match Registry operated by the NMDP, who served as a coordinator for Miah through the donation process.

For Miah, that process started during a blood drive in February 2011 at Saint John's University.

"I signed up for the registry there," Miah recalled. "I got a phone call earlier this summer saying I was a possible match for it. I went through an interview and confirmation meeting to see if I was willing to donate."

Enter Reichling.

"We want to make sure that the donors get all their questions answered before they sign any consent forms so they can make an informed and educated choice to proceed," Reichling said. "My role is to coordinate everything for the donor throughout the process and try to make the process as easy as possible for the donor and their schedule."

Miah was ready to proceed, so for five days leading up to the donation, she was given injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in her bloodstream at St. Cloud Hospital.

Finally, in November, she went through a two-day donation process. Miah was hooked up to a machine with needles in both arms. It took the blood out of one arm and passed it through the machine, which separates and collects blood-forming cells. The remaining blood was returned to Miah intravenously in her other arm. The first-day procedure took six hours, and four hours the second day.

"I would say for me, I'm someone who's really active and likes to move around and has a hard time sitting still. That was probably the most difficult part for me," said Miah, adding it was more "uncomfortable than painful."

Winterfeldt, who is a social science major at CSB and someday, hopes to teach, said she tried to be "private" about the donation process. But her professors "were very understanding in giving me time off to miss class" when she alerted them she would be donating.

But the best news came not all that long ago.

"I got a call from Sue that said the patient received the transplant well and they didn't have any rejection. They're doing well, which is a good sign," Miah said.

Miah would encourage anyone to join the Be The Match registry.

"It is a little bit of a commitment," Miah said. "I think the payoff - being able to give that gift to someone - is definitely worth it. It's not a total walk in the park. You have to be OK with needles. I think it's definitely worth it, though. I would highly encourage everyone to take some time to think about what the donation process entails, and if you think you would be committed to donating, to sign up for the registry."