Local soldier using different means to save a life as part of bone marrow donor program

Ryan Lockwood, sergeant first class in the United States Army, donated his stem cells to a 9-year-old girl suffering from a life-threatening form of anemia.
Photo provided.

Originally published Dec. 30, 2013.

It is easy to imagine soldiers fighting for the lives of civilians while at war.

Members of our military battle the enemy to protect and preserve the lives of all Americans.

But, a handful of these warriors save lives in another way, too.

Ryan Lockwood, sergeant first class in the U.S. Army, is one of those men.

Lockwood, a Huntington native who is currently stationed in Bay City, MI, as a recruiter, joined a small group of roughly 6,000 military personnel in November who have donated marrow or stem cells as part of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense (DoD) Marrow Donor Recruitment and Research Program.

The armed forces program matches volunteer military personnel and civilian DoD employees to American citizens who are diagnosed with a disease that requires an infusion of stem cells or a bone marrow donation.

From 2009 to 2010, Lockwood was stationed in South East Asia. While there, he signed up for the program.

Lockwood says he was walking with some fellow soldiers and passed by the donation testing center, and on a whim he decided to give a sample.

"It took 30 seconds to do the swab, and one minute to do the paperwork, and I never thought about it again," he says.

Then, more than three years later, he was sitting in a meeting when his phone rang.

"It was a number I didn't recognize, so I let it go to voicemail," he recalls, "When I got out of the meeting I listened to the message and it explained that I was a probable match for someone who needed a bone marrow transplant and I was needed for further testing.

"So, I went in for a blood draw and some tests, and a few weeks later I was confirmed as the best match."

Lockwood's DNA matched that of a 9-year-old girl who suffers from a disease called Fanconi (pronounced fan-KO-nee) anemia, also known as FA.

He explains that information about donor recipients is kept "fairly anonymous," but he was able to Google her disease and learn more about it.

"Her body actually stops producing bone marrow,"
Lockwood says as he struggles to find the right words to explain, "a bone marrow transplant is usually the last thing families try to do... until people are not able to live anymore."

Lockwood goes on to say that for the recipient, the transplant is a "pretty drastic measure."

For FA patients, bone marrow failure, or inadequate blood cell production, has a pretty grim outlook.
According to Wikipedia, bone marrow transplant is a last-ditch effort that has a relatively low success rate. For Lockwood's recipient, that percentage drops even lower because he is not a related donor.

"With the matches, it is mostly based on DNA," he says, "She doesn't even have my blood type... It is very unlikely that people become matches."

When the recipient receives Lockwood's donation, if her body accepts the transplant, she will change blood types to his, he explains.

The five-year survival rate for unrelated transplant recipients is just 30 percent.

Six weeks after the recipient receives his donation, Lockwood will receive an update on her condition, he says, and again after six months.

The transplant will come in the form of stem cells, which Lockwood says about 75 percent of bone marrow transplants do. The other 25 percent come in the form of pure marrow that is extracted from the donor's hip.

It took Lockwood five days to complete the stem cell donation.

"I was given one shot a day for five days to boost my white blood cell production, and on the fifth day I was hooked up to a machine that extracted my blood, separated my stem cells out and then pumped my blood back into me," he explains.

To Lockwood, it was not something hard to do, he says.

"I just went and got shots for five days. I didn't feel very good on a couple of them, but that's all," he adds.

"Everyone keeps saying that I did an admirable thing, but on my end, what impresses me more is the work that the doctors and researchers do that makes this possible," Lockwood says.

"I hope to help out," he adds,

"It really makes you think about things - what's important and not important in life."

Complete caption: Ryan Lockwood, sergeant first class in the United States Army, donated his stem cells to a 9-year-old girl suffering from a life-threatening form of anemia. Here, Lockwood sports his St. Barbara Medal for Catholics, which he was awarded for highest standards of integrity and moral character.