Marine endures pain, donates bone marrow for stranger
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa, Japan -- In the midst of recruit training, Pvt. Enrique Gallardo was given a form to sign in January of 2010 — a form that, while similar in appearance to countless others that had passed in front of Gallardo, would be very significant in the Marine's future.
By checking a box on this form, Gallardo elected to be a potential bone marrow donor, setting events into motion that would possibly save the life of a complete stranger.
Two years later, Lance Cpl. Gallardo, an aviation systems radio technician with Marine Air Support Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, received an email stating he was a potential bone marrow match for a 23-year-old female patient in need of a transplant.
The patient, whose identity remains anonymous to the donor until one year after the procedure is completed, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a fast-growing cancer affecting white blood cells.
"When they contacted me, I had forgotten that I chose to be a potential donor," said Gallardo. "I have always lived by the idea that if you can help out someone in need, you should. If the temporary pain I (had) to endure during the process could prevent someone from a lifetime of pain, it was worth it."
After further testing confirmed Gallardo was a match for the patient, he received approval to continue with the procedure in either California or New York.
"I chose San Diego because I'm from Los Angeles and my parents and wife were able to meet up with me during the procedure," said Gallardo. "Their support definitely helped me through the process because they were behind my decision to help someone in need."
The procedure, known as a peripheral blood stem cell donation, began the day after Gallardo arrived at the hospital. The first phase of the procedure consists of a five-day series of shots designed to expand the bone marrow in the donor's body to assist with its withdrawal.
"The first two days of the injections, I remember feeling a minor headache with a few aches and pains in my hips," said Gallardo. "By the fourth and fifth day, I could feel extreme pain throughout my body."
Gallardo was ready for the marrow extraction a few hours after the fifth injection. His blood was removed through a hypodermic needle in one arm and passed through a machine to separate out blood stem cells. The remaining blood, minus the stem cells, was returned to Gallardo through the other arm.
"Throughout the process, I would think about what my staff sergeant told me back when I was contemplating carrying on with the process," said Gallardo. "It was a morning after we had just run a (physical) fitness test. I was bent over feeling a little tired and she came up to me and (asked if I was) in pain. I said that I was and she responded that whoever is in need of this procedure probably wishes they could run a PFT to feel that pain in their legs."
After the procedure, Gallardo was cleared to leave the hospital and took leave to spend time with his family and recover.
"I did my best to be there for him for whatever he needed," said Vannia Gallardo, Enrique's wife. "Even though he never complained about the side effects from the shots, I could see that he was going through some pain. When the day of the donation arrived, we were a little nervous, but the hospital personnel took very good care of him. After lying on the hospital bed with (intravenous fluids) in him for more than four hours, we were relieved to be told everything went well."
Following his leave, Gallardo was back into the swing of things, carrying out his daily duties with no issues.
"I was impressed that, without hesitation, Gallardo was willing to help someone he didn't even know who was in an extreme situation," said Sgt. Eric J. Hansen, an aviation systems radio technician with MASS-2. "As Marines, we are expected to go above and beyond what is expected in everything we do. Gallardo showed that with his selfless sacrifice."
While Gallardo continues on in his Marine Corps career, he says he eagerly awaits the day he will get an update on the condition of the recipient of his donation, hoping he was able to make a difference in her life.