Jefferson Lab Man Donates Bone Marrow to Save 12-Year-Old Boy

Leon Reynolds: son, husband, father, former Marine and teacher, accelerator operator and most recently, bone marrow donor.

Last month, Reynolds became Jefferson Lab's first person in corporate memory to become a marrow donor. He entered the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) registry on Oct. 11, 2000, when the Lab sponsored a bone marrow registry drive in conjunction with a regularly scheduled Red Cross blood drive.

"It was one of those things I'd always wanted to do, but had just never found the time to get it done," Reynolds recalls of the quick, simple registry process. "The Lab made it easy and convenient for me. I wish more employers would hold a registry drive. There's a real shortage of minorities registered as potential donors. So it was important to me to do this," he explains.

"Two marrow donor statistics still stick out in my mind: One in 20,000 Caucasian people [needing a bone marrow transplant] receive marrow from a registry match, while only one in 1,000,000 minority recipients receive marrow from the registry," he continues. "Because of the shortage of registered minority donors, look at how many people die from blood-related cancers without ever having the chance to receive a marrow transplant that could extend or save their life."

He didn't think much more about it until nearly a year later when he received a call from the NMDP registry. "Was he still interested in being a donor? How was his health right now?" he was asked. "There's a 12-year-old boy with acute leukemia. He needs a bone marrow transplant to live. It looks like you are a match. If you are still willing to be a donor, can we do another round of testing to see if you'd be a suitable donor for the child?"

Reynolds says, he couldn't say no. "What if it were one of my kids in this situation," he kept thinking. "I would hope that someone would be willing to make this small sacrifice to help save my child."

Reynolds made a few trips to the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond for a complete battery of tests and to provide the NMDP with his complete medical history. "I've had a physical every year of my life," Reynolds admits, "but never this extensive. It was nice to know, as I enter my 40s, that my body is in good working order."

"They really check everything out. Everything in my bone marrow becomes his," Reynolds points out. "You've gotta remember, they're going to wipe out this kid's bone marrow — his entire immune system. The doctors have to make sure they're not exposing the patient to anything. Even the common cold could kill him."

The results came back. He was a very good match — 5 out of 6 blood characteristics — and his health was excellent. On Feb. 18, Leon spent the day at work, then drove up to the Marriott in Richmond. Early the next morning Leon was picked up by his Red Cross representative for the short drive to MCV where he was admitted for the overnight procedure. He received a general anesthesia; then the doctors extracted two liters of bone marrow from his body. The life-saving marrow was packaged and immediately taken to Richmond International Airport, where the recipient's NMDP representative received it and flew to the child's destination.

Reynolds returned to work Feb. 25, a little slow but in great spirits. "The response from co-workers and friends around the Lab has been incredible. Recovery went much faster than I expected. Yea," he admits, "I was a little sore when I first came back to work but I was 90 percent mobile. For a few days it felt like a brick had slammed across my lower back and it was still hanging there and I was carrying it around. But this was nothing compared to what the recipient is going through."

While Leon doesn't know the young man who received his bone marrow, or even where he lives, Leon received a 30-day update and will receive future updates on his condition. After one year, if the child elects to meet his donor, Leon could meet the young cancer patient. Leon hopes that happens.

"I'm fine," Leon says. "It's that little 12-year-old boy out there, somewhere, fighting for his life that we need to keep in our thoughts and in our prayers. I hope that through my experience others will consider being placed on the bone marrow registry and possibly becoming a marrow donor," he says. "It's such a small personal sacrifice and it can save someone's life. Life should be about helping others."

Sidebar Information

Reynolds was recently informed that his bone marrow recipient has Graph Versus Host Disease, which is normal in these types of cases. The young man is doing better than expected. He's on a mild restriction concerning play.

When Reynolds received the update, the recipient was a couple days away from leaving the hospital, but will stay in guarded care for the next 100 days after which he will be re-evaluated.

"Jefferson Lab held its bone marrow registry drive at the time our Senior Scientist and Theory Group Leader Nathan Isgur was battling multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the bone marrow. One of the possible treatments for his cancer was a bone marrow transplant," recalls Linda Ware, Lab Public Affairs manager. "This generated interest in what the Lab could do to show support for Nathan, and a marrow registry drive seemed to be a good choice."

The American Red Cross subsidized the registry fees and the NMDP charged no fee for registering minorities. Thirty-one Lab people registered at that time — five individuals with minority heritage. The Lab, using SURA funds, sponsored the $546 tab to cover tissue-typing expenses for the new registrants.