Fewer than 1 in 500 people who sign up for the Be The Match Registry®, the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world, go on to become donors. Even rarer is the donor a teenager barely out of high school. In 2017, Plano resident Garrett Alldredge became one of those rare cases when a decision he made as a high school senior provided lifesaving treatment for an infant halfway across the country.
Alldredge attended Jesuit College Preparatory School, a Catholic high school in Dallas that seeks to develop Men for Others – young men who put their faith into action by serving others. During Jesuit’s Community Days retreat, a speaker from the National Marrow Donor Program spoke with Jesuit’s seniors about Be The Match. “They explained the program and how our participation could help save somebody’s life, though they indicated the chances for somebody to actually be a match and become a donor aren’t very high,” said Alldredge. “Still, Jesuit had taught us to seek opportunities to serve and help others and this seemed a nice, quick way we could do something, even if we never expected anything to come of it.”
Along with most of his classmates, Alldredge had the inside of his cheek swabbed so he could be placed into the Be The Match registry and, as is typical, he soon forgot about it as the remainder of senior year, graduation and getting ready for college commanded his attention.
In August 2016, Alldredge enrolled at Sam Houston State University as a Criminal Justice major. He was enjoying life as a college freshman, when in late November he received notice that he could be a possible match for somebody and was asked to provide a blood sample. This initial sample would begin the assessment process to determine whether he really was a match and would be a suitable donor. After a few months, and a couple more blood donations, Alldredge learned that he was in fact a perfect match. “I was just beginning my second semester in college, so it was a bit surreal to think my bone marrow was needed to help save the life for somebody who was really sick,” said Alldredge. “However, I never hesitated with the decision, though of course my parents wanted to be sure it was safe and there would be no danger to me, which there wasn’t.”
Still having no idea who his marrow donation was for, Alldredge drove up to Cook Children’s hospital in Fort Worth and spent the night with his parents in a local hotel. The morning of February 13, 2017 he woke very early and went in for the procedure. “There are two ways to draw, one of which is directly from the bones, and that is the procedure they used with me,” said Alldredge. “I went under anesthesia for about an hour, during which the marrow was drawn from bone near my pelvis. Immediately after, I was a little groggy, and for about a week my back was sore and a bit stiff, almost like somebody had punched me. However, it really wasn’t that bad at all.”
More than a year later, Alldredge finally found out his marrow was for a young girl who was less than six months old at the time he donated. “Within the first week of this girl’s life, the doctors discovered she had an inability to produce T-cells, so she was essentially quarantined to prevent her from catching a disease until she could receive a lifesaving marrow donation,” said Alldredge. “Knowing that my donation was helping somebody so young and helpless made it all the more real, and special, to me.”
In June of 2018, while he was working an internship at Disneyland, Alldredge began communicating with the family and for the first time saw pictures of the girl whose life he helped save. He also learned that the family lived in Virginia, which made it even more amazing that he could play such an important role from half a country away. “That is why Be The Match is so important…it connects people who would otherwise have no relationship or way of knowing that their marrow could help somebody else,” added Alldredge.
Noticing that Alldredge had posted pictures online of himself at Disneyland, the young girl’s family mentioned that they were going to visit Disney World in Orlando in September. Alldredge and his family were also planning a trip to Disney World for his dad’s 50th birthday, so they planned a time to meet the young patient and her family. “It was extraordinary to see her running around and acting like any other young child, knowing what she had been through,” said Alldredge. “Not only did she have multiple transfusions, but she had also undergone chemotherapy. However, this young child, who once would not have survived long if exposed to the world like the rest of us, was now just another active, joyful toddler as if nothing had ever happened.”
When asked what this experience means to him, and whether he would do it again, Alldredge answers without hesitation. “Absolutely, this is probably one of the most meaningful experiences I will have in my life and without a doubt would do so again. Jesuit instilled in us the importance of being Men for Others and to not count the cost when helping somebody in need, so I would be thrilled to donate marrow to somebody else. Also, because of my experience, I have really become an advocate for Be The Match and have encouraged probably 50 to 60 friends to sign up with the registry. My hope is that someday one of the people I encouraged to sign up will also provide lifesaving marrow for somebody else.”
For more information about Be The Match, visit https://bethematch.org