As he was enjoying the surf and sun of spring break vacation, Teddy Conrad 2013 got a call that would change two lives. Conrad, a business and economics major, had registered to be a bone marrow donor. The Ursinus football team held a bone marrow registry drive in 2009 through the Be the Match Registry sponsored by the National Marrow Donor Program.
“We all signed up as a team,” says Conrad, of Doylestown, Pa. “They told us the chances of getting picked were slim. I didn’t think I would ever get called.”
The first hint that he was a possible match came in December 2010. “Once I got the call
that I was a potential donor, I had a whole new view on it. I was pretty excited,” says Conrad, 20. The spring break phone call from the National Marrow Donor Program representative was a confirmation that he was a definite match. All he would learn about the woman who would receive his bone marrow was she was 63 years old and battling leukemia.
On average, one in 540 registry members goes on to donate to a patient, according to Catherine Scott of the National Marrow Donor Program, which is based in Minneapolis. To be on the registry, potential donors must meet age and health guidelines. Thousands of people with life-threatening diseases like leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell anemia need a marrow transplant, but don’t have a match in their family, says Scott. Regardless of whether a person is ever called to be a donor, she says, just being on the registry helps.
“Every person who joins the Be the Match Registry gives patients hope, and new patient searches begin every day. You may never be identified as a match for someone, or you might be one of a number of potential matches,” she says. “But you may also be the only one on the registry who can save a particular patient’s life.”
While still on vacation in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Conrad underwent a physical examination and spoke at length to a representative from NMDP, who filled him on what would happen in the next few weeks. When he returned to Philadelphia, he had more blood tests at Hahnemann University Hospital and yet another physical.
Each of the five days leading up to the donation, Conrad received shots that sped up the white blood cell count to produce more stem cells. One of those shots was given at Hahnemann, but the other days a nurse came to Ursinus to administer the injection. On the day of his donation, Conrad and his mom, Terri Shelton, arrived at the hospital in the early morning. He was given yet another shot, then spent the next almost six hours giving the gift of life.
“I had a needle in one arm at my elbow, my arm was immobile,” says Conrad, who has a mass of blonde curls and bright blue eyes. “There were tubes running into a crazy-looking machine. The blood goes in, separates, and takes out what it needs and the tube runs it back into the other arm.”
And that was it. No invasive surgeries that could lead to complications or put him out of commission for a while. With the stem cell process, Conrad was back on his feet the same day, albeit extremely tired. He was tired for the next few weeks and restricted from participating in Ursinus’ spring football camp. But that was fine with him. “I’m laid back,” says Conrad. “I go with the flow. If I have the opportunity to help someone I’m going to do it.”
Her son has always been attuned to the feelings of others, says Terri Shelton. “I am so proud of him. It’s just been an amazing experience for him,” she says. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s just a special kid. He’s always been very giving. It’s kind of like he was born that way. I have three kids and he’s the one who, as a toddler, would share his candy.”
A running back and fullback on the Ursinus football team, Conrad is also on the wrestling team with an 8-2 mark. The people who know him best are not surprised that Conrad made this decision. “Teddy is a selfless person who always puts the team in front of himself, so it is no surprise that he has sacrificed his time to save a life,” says Ursinus football coach Peter Gallagher. “He is one of the best and brightest student athletes I have ever been around. He is a role model for his teammates and the entire Ursinus community.”
Conrad is anticipating the first anniversary of his donation when he can contact the woman who received his bone marrow. The only thing he knows is that her procedure went perfectly and that she was back at home. “I just want to talk to her and get to know her,” says Conrad, who spent his summer working for a construction company. “It’s not every day you get to save a life. Just to be able to say I’ve done that is awesome.”
Conrad hopes others will be inspired to become donors. “Do it,” he says. “I feel a lot better about myself. It’s a really simple procedure. Not many people get to say they saved a life from something that simple. It’s definitely a life-changing experience for you and the donor.”
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Erika Compton Butler graduated from Ursinus in 1994 with a degree in economics and business administration. She last wrote for Ursinus Magazine in 2010 about veterinarian Rob Teti 1995. Erika is a news editor for The Aegis in Harford County, Md., where she lives with her husband, Chris, son, Henry, and daughter, Emily.