A selfless act: PBL grad donates bone marrow to help save cancer patient's life

RURAL BUCKLEY — By the time his sophomore year was over at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, Mike Shively had already lost one of his classmates, Ryan Coe, to cancer.

Seven years later, in 2015, another member of Shively’s 2011 graduating class, Jon Hustedt, would die as a result of the disease.

And if their untimely deaths weren’t enough of a reminder of cancer’s broad reach, the diagnosis that Shively’s father, Todd, received in 2013 surely was.

It was that August when the younger Shively, on his way home from a John Deere internship in Kansas City, got the phone call informing him that his father had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. Doctors told the 51-year-old Pioneer seed dealer from rural Buckley that his cancer was in “Stage 3A,” meaning it had spread to both the upper and lower parts of his body.

Months passed with little else known about his dad’s condition. Then, in fall 2014, while Shively was at a blood drive at Parkland College in Champaign, he came across a station there that caught his attention: An organization called Be the Match was signing up people for a bone marrow donor registry.

Shively’s thoughts immediately went back to his dad, his classmates. He thought to himself, ‘What if maybe — just maybe — I could help save a life?”

“At this point we really didn’t know a whole lot about Dad’s cancer — we were still getting our ‘what-ifs’ answered,” Shively recalled. “So I didn’t know if it would improve our chances if Dad ever needed a bone-marrow transplant. But I just figured, it couldn’t hurt to sign up.”

Surprise call
Shively submitted a cheek swab — a quick, painless procedure. His profile was then put into a computerized database, which would “flag” his profile whenever it could be a potential “match” for a cancer patient in need of a bone-marrow transfusion.

Shively never expected anything to come of it. As he points out, “you could go your entire life and never be contacted (to donate bone marrow) — never be a match for somebody.”

But Shively didn’t wait long to hear back from Be the Match. It was around December that same year when he received his first phone call informing him that he was a “potential match.” Plans for Shively to donate his bone marrow were soon pulled, however, after it was determined that he and the cancer patient would not be a good match.

Then, about a year and a half later, Shively got another phone call from Be the Match. The organization, this time, wanted Shively to come in to do some further blood work to see if he could be a match for a different cancer patient.

“So in May, when I was contacted to do further blood work, I went to the River Valley Blood Center in Champaign,” Shively said. “They took blood and sent it off (to a lab). Then, after about six to seven weeks, they determined that I was going to be the best match for this guy. I was super excited about it.”

Shively then was asked to undergo a physical at a Be the Match bone-marrow transplant location in Madison, Wis. There, doctors ran several tests on Shively to determine that he was physically fit to give bone marrow — which, about a week later, doctors deemed that he was.

“They wanted to push (the process) through as fast as possible, so I’m guessing this guy (who was to receive my bone marrow) was in need of it — and pretty quick,” Shively said.

Shively returned to the same transplant site on Aug. 30 — this time to give his bone marrow. It was a two-hour surgery that involved drawing bone marrow from Shively’s right hip.

“You’re laying on your stomach the entire time, and they make two small incisions — very small, the size of a pea — and then they go in with hollow needles at the top of the arches of your hip bone,” Shively said. “Basically, they stick (the needles) in that one hole (in your hip bone), but they go in at different angles, getting a little bit more out each time.”

Doctors ended up removing a quart Shively’s bone marrow — which, Shively said, is the minimum amount deemed “suitable to be able to repopulate the other person’s stem cells.”

“I got poked about 400 times on my right side,” Shively said. “Apparently I give blood very well, but I don’t give bone marrow very well — it didn’t come out very fast. But they got it — they got everything they needed, and it was all successful.”

That same day, Shively’s bone marrow was transported via airplane to the cancer patient’s hospital, where it was administered to him.

‘Totally anonymous’
Shively said the process of donating bone marrow is “totally anonymous,” meaning Shively does not know the identity of the cancer patient who received his bone marrow — only that the patient has acute myelogenous leukemia — and that the patient, likewise, does not know the donor’s identity.

Although the patient and donor are permitted to write letters to each other anonymously — which Shively hopes to start doing soon — no names can be disclosed until at least one year after the transplant occurs — per Be the Match’s rules, Shively said.

Once a year passes, of course, Shively eventually hopes to be able to meet his match.

Shively isn’t quite sure yet what he’d say to his match if given the opportunity.

“I don’t really know,” Shively said. “I guess I haven’t really thought about that. Just seeing how he’s doing, seeing how his whole healing process was, if he’s still undergoing treatment.

“And I’d ask him how it affected his life. I know how it’s affected me, and I feel really good about it, being able to do that, because not everyone has the opportunity.”

A ‘selfless act’
The possibility that Shively has saved another man’s life hasn’t quite hit home yet.

“It’s weird,” Shively said. “I don’t really think it’s settled in yet.”

In the meantime, Shively has been spending the past week resting up at his home in rural Buckley.

“I’m still a little stiff (from the surgery),” he said. “I’m just chilling on the couch, getting up and stretching my legs every once in a while.”

Shively’s father said he was “super proud” of his 23-year-old son for his “selfless” act.

Shively, who served as Illinois FFA president from 2011-12, does not want “attention” or recognition for what he did. It was just “a good thing to do,” he said.

“With everyone in the near area who has handled cancer and the few who’ve passed away from it, it kind of all went into doing something to be able to help somebody out,” Shively said.

‘I’d do it again in a heart beat’
Shively hopes his story can inspire others to also donate their bone marrow through Be the Match. Maybe, he hopes, such donations could help his father, or some other cancer patient, in a time of need.

“It could be that I need it someday,” said Todd Shively, whose cancer has been upgraded to Stage 4 and has spread to his bone marrow.

Mike Shively said he has no regrets about donating.

Heck, he’d do it again if given the chance, he said.

“Oh, yeah, I’d do it again in a heart beat,” said Shively, who works as a technician for SNC Solutions. “You can give two times to two completely different people before they take you off the ‘active’ list. So I’m just going to see if they can just leave me on (the list) until I’m physically not able to give anymore.”

According to Be the Match, the organization had helped 6,300 cancer patients receive a marrow transplant as of 2014, and 68,000 marrow transplants had been conducted through the organization since 1987. In that same time frame, the Be the Match registry had grown to 546,000 potential donors.

Be the Match says blood marrow donations are especially needed since 70 percent of cancer patients do not have a matched marrow donor in their family.

People can sign up to donate blood marrow through Be the Match at River Valley Blood Center in Champaign, Shively said.

For more information about Be the Match, visit bethematch.org.

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