University of Portland photo
Tom Ank of the University of Portland after donating marrow.
University of Portland photo
Tom Ank of the University of Portland after donating marrow.
University of Portland staff member Tom Ank recently completed a medical procedure that started last fall on a whim. Several months later, he may have saved the life of a complete stranger.

Last fall, Ank convinced several students to sign up for tests to determine whether they would be a match to donate marrow for life-threatening cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
Ank, a network engineer at UP, says he doesn’t like to ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t. So he also submitted himself for a cheek swab by UP nursing students who had set up a testing operation.

At age 42, Ank is near the age limit for the marrow donation registry, so he didn’t anticipate anything to come of his test.

“I expected one of the students to get a call later in life,” he said. “Never me.”
Three months after the swab, he received an email telling him he had a very rare HLA type and was asked to complete a survey on his family history. He filled out a form on a web page.

A month later he received a call from Be the Match, which connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. It was March 25.  

“The nice lady on the phone directed me to a lab in my area and a bunch of blood was drawn. The folks at the lab told me they do this all the time and rarely does anything come of it,” Ank recalls.

On March 29, Good Friday, he was told he was a match. He was told not to donate blood, that he was “on hold,” and that in six to eight weeks they would call again.

Within an couple of weeks, he flew to California where he would spend five days away from family and friends “to try and save the life of someone with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Someone I have never met.”

During his stay at a cancer center, he received some shots and his health was monitored. He then was hooked to a machine for six to eight hours to collect his stem cells.

“Two days later, on my birthday, this person I’ve never met before received these cells.”

It all happens very fast. His nurse told him that it isn’t always finding the match that is a problem, but “finding a willing match.”

“Sometimes you have to travel,” says Ank.  “Sometimes you will be hundreds of miles away. But you still have to step forward. No matter what I deal with, the recipient is dealing with worse. I remind myself of this constantly.”

When the procedure was complete, Ank said he was tired, alone and a bit under the weather. But he kept telling himself the recipient was fighting for his life.

“That is what made me press forward,” Ank said. “I was putting aside work, fun, holidays, and everything else. I was pausing my life to hopefully save another.”

“All I can think at this time is ‘Good luck, man.’ I had nothing else to give, so I am offering you the very marrow from my bones. I hope you make it."