Bland County EMT J.D. Atwell has used his medical skills to save and improve lives since he was in high school. Now he plans to save one by donating his own bone marrow to someone in desperate need.
The 26-year-old signed up with a donation registry three years ago while he was studying to become an EMT. He submitted a cheek swab then and didn’t think much about it after that.
Then, three months ago, Atwell was contacted by someone at the registry.
“They said they’d matched me with someone and that I needed to come in and do some blood work,” Atwell said.
It turned out that Atwell had three potential matches: a 4-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old, all with some form of cancer.
Further lab work is needed to see which patient Atwell’s marrow will best suit. Should it match them equally, Atwell will have to make the difficult decision of choosing which patient will get his marrow.
“I’ll have the ultimate decision of the one to pick, but I want to make sure it’s the right one that gets it.”
Right now, Atwell is leaning toward the four-year-old, but he said he has a lot of things to consider, like the type of cancer each patient has, as well as its aggressiveness.
It’s also important to Atwell that his marrow be a cure and not just a treatment.
“I want to make sure once they get it, they’re going to be fine and it’s not just something that they’re going to have to keep doing.”
Once a decision has been reached, Atwell will travel to the hospital the patient is being treated at. One patient is located in Maryland, another in D.C. and one is in Florida.
There, Atwell will either go into surgery to have the marrow removed from his pelvis or the back of his spine, or he will be hooked up to a machine which will filter the marrow from his blood. While the second option is less intrusive, it takes about eight hours to complete and has a much longer recovery period. Atwell is still undecided on which method he will undergo.
Though he has some tough decisions ahead of him, Atwell’s decision to donate a piece of himself to save a life was an easy one to make.
“It kind of seems like everything I’ve worked toward,” he said. “It just feels like this is just one of those things that kind of makes you feel like you’re going in the right direction.”
Atwell has been in the business of tending to people’s medical needs since he was a junior in high school, when he began working at Kissito Healthcare Bland County as a certified nursing assistant. Atwell continued his education in nursing after high school, working his way up in the facility and in July he was promoted to director of admissions.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to help people, whether it’s long-term or emergency medicine, I’ve always just had that mentality to help others.”
And help people, he does. When he’s not at Kissito, Atwell responds to emergency calls with the Bland County Volunteer Rescue Squad.
His motto: “Life is short. If you can help others, that’s the best feeling that anybody can get.”
Though his work in nursing and in emergency medicine is exceptionally rewarding, Atwell said donating his bone marrow will be unique experience.
“It’s just a different type of helping feeling, honestly,” he said.
Atwell expects to learn more about the next steps in the coming weeks.