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McConnell member gets chance to save life

Master Sgt. Michael Castillo, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron member, prepares to undergo bone marrow extraction surgery Jan. 3 at Georgetown University Hospital. Sergeant Castillo is a volunteer bone marrow donor and a registered member of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.  (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Francine Bish)

Master Sgt. Michael Castillo, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron member, prepares to undergo bone marrow extraction surgery Jan. 3 at Georgetown University Hospital. Sergeant Castillo is a volunteer bone marrow donor and a registered member of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Francine Bish)

A staff member of the Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., draws blood from Master Sgt. Michael Castillo, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Jan. 3, at the hospital. Sergeant Castillo had his blood draw prior to undergoing surgery to donate bone marrow to a 10-month-old baby. (Air Force phot by Master Sgt. Francine Bish)

A staff member of the Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., draws blood from Master Sgt. Michael Castillo, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Jan. 3, at the hospital. Sergeant Castillo had his blood draw prior to undergoing surgery to donate bone marrow to a 10-month-old baby. (Air Force phot by Master Sgt. Francine Bish)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Master Sgt. Michael Castillo attended the Noncommissioned Officers Academy at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., in 2002 to enhance his military education.

He never imagined attending the academy would also put him in the position to help save someone's life just a few years later.

A speaker visited his class at the NCOA to talk to students about a program that pairs volunteers with people who need bone marrow transplants.

Sergeant Castillo knew right away he wanted to volunteer for the program.

"There was really no question. It just seemed like the right thing to do," said the 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron member. "If one of my children needed a transplant, and no one in my family was a match, I'd want someone to help. That's why I signed up."

The C.W Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, based in Washington D.C., enables servicemembers, their family members, Department of Defense civilians, and Reserve and Guard members to volunteer to become bone marrow donors for people in need of a transplant. Volunteers register for the program and undergo a simple blood test. Members of the DoD donor program register the test results in a database, so they can later be compared for compatibility with potential bone marrow transplant recipients.

According to the DoD donor program Web site, doctors use transplant therapy to treat as many as 70 different potentially fatal diseases, including certain types of leukemia, for example, that can be cured by replacement of diseased marrow with healthy marrow from a donor.

Seventy percent of patients who need a transplant do not have a suitable donor in their families, states the National Marrow Donor Program's Web site. The chances of a volunteer donor becoming a potential match for someone in need of a transplant are also relatively small, and the chances for a volunteer to become a "perfect" match is even smaller, according to the site. This means a volunteer may never be called on to donate, which was not the case for Sergeant Castillo.

In October, while he was serving a two-week temporary duty assignment at Sheppard Air Force Base, he received a phone call telling him he was a possible match for a 10-month-old baby who needed a bone marrow transplant. Sergeant Castillo had a decision to make since volunteers are not obligated to donate bone marrow and can back out of the program at anytime.

He agreed to help, which meant he would have to undergo additional tests to see if he was truly a match for the baby, so Sergeant Castillo had additional blood samples taken while he was at Sheppard Air Force Base, which were forwarded to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., for evaluation.

A couple of months later, he received another call informing him he was a match for the baby, and in January Sergeant Castillo flew to Georgetown University Hospital to donate his bone marrow.

"The surgery only took about 90 minutes," the 36-year-old sergeant said. "It really was a pretty easy procedure. It's a small amount of discomfort that can potentially save a life. I definitely think it's worth it."

When people donate bone marrow, they are typically placed on their stomachs and given a general anesthesia that puts them to sleep. Then, doctors make a small, .25- to .50-inch incision in the lower back - just above the buttocks. Once the incision is made, doctors use a needle to extract bone marrow from a flat part of the pelvic bone called the iliac crest.

"He went in for surgery around 7:30 a.m. and he was back in his room by 9:30 a.m.," said Master Sgt. Francine Bish, Sergeant Castillo's wife and 22nd Medical Operations Squadron member. "The Georgetown hospital staff was great."

Donors get to choose a companion, called a non-medical attendant, to accompany them and provide them support while they undergo surgery. Sergeant Castillo chose his wife, Sergeant Bish.

"I didn't get to go through the procedure, but given the opportunity, I definitely would," said Sergeant Bish who is also a registered donor. "I was glad to be there. I think having someone with you is important. You really need someone there to offer you support and encouragement."

One of the perks to donating is that all costs including hotel, transportation and meal expenses related to the bone marrow extraction procedure are covered. Neither the donor nor the non-medical attendant have to pay any out-of-pocket expenses for volunteering to help with the transplant.

"I'm a little sore and bruised where they took the marrow from, but it's really not that bad," Sergeant Castillo said. "Given the opportunity, I would do it again without hesitation."

Sergeant Castillo did not get to meet the 10-month-old who received his bone marrow, but he should get an update on the baby's health sometime in April or May. If the transplant is successful, Sergeant Castillo and the baby will have an opportunity to meet one year from the date of the transplant - provided both parties are interested.

To learn more about the C.W Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, visit: http://www.dodmarrow.org/index.htm or call (800) 627-7693.