Giving something of yourself to others is a commonly-used phrase, often referring to one’s time, labor, or money.
Natalie Bryden took the phrase more literally.
The Cheshire native recently decided to donate bone marrow to a total stranger, a gift that could potentially act as a turning point in the life of someone suffering from a blood disease such as leukemia. Bryden says she first heard about the possibility of becoming a bone marrow donor through one of her sorority sisters at the University of Connecticut.
“Her brother had been diagnosed with cancer so she organized a drive, but I actually didn’t sign up during the event,” Bryden admitted. The thought of becoming a donor stayed with her, however.
Last May, Bryden signed up through Be The Match, part of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit National Marrow Donor Program. The organization matches donors and patients, as well as supports research in the field of transplant therapies at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Be The Match traces its history to 1979, when a family agreed to test an experimental bone marrow transplant on their 10-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed with leukemia. The procedure was a success and the organization has grown ever since. It now facilitates over 6,700 procedures a year, according to its website.
“I went to the site, ordered the kit and did the cheek swab and really didn’t think twice about it,” Bryden said.
Then, in early February, “I got a call, a text, a letter, and they told me I was a really strong match for a young boy in Canada with a blood disorder,” recalled Bryden.
The Cheshire High School and UConn graduate was in the middle of her first year as a second-grade teacher in East Hartford when the message came through that she was an excellent match for a patient. After completing some additional blood analysis, and going through a 60-day waiting period, on April 3 she was asked to donate her bone marrow.
Bryden was “nervous at first, but I knew this was something I had to do. I knew it was a person in need, and it was easy for me to think that could be a student or a neighbor of mine.”
She credits Be The Match for being “amazing with explaining anything, answering any question I had,” as well as giving her support through all stages of the donation process.
The next step was a trip to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital for the procedure, an extraction from Bryden’s lower back.
“It took about two and a half hours,” she recalls, and after a few hours more of recovery, her time at the hospital was over. Though there was some lingering discomfort over the next month or so, Bryden insisted that the “inconvenience of missing work” didn’t compare to the importance of her gift.
Her employers, she said, were “very supportive,” and she was able to incorporate the experience into her own teaching.
“I actually told my class of second-graders about it, and they thought it was really great that I was helping someone around their age,” Bryden added. “They’re very excited about different ways you can help people.”
Although contact with the recipient of her marrow is possible if both the donor and recipient agree to it, Bryden says she doesn’t necessarily feel the need to know.
Donors can give marrow just twice, and Be The Match seeks people between 18 and 40 years of age, so that those cells can reproduce.
“It’s something everybody could do if you’re in good health,” Bryden explained. She has no plans to donate marrow in the near future, but she does plan to donate blood, as she has in the past.
For now, she is concentrating on finishing her first full year of teaching and looking forward to the summer.
“The experience of donating bone marrow made me think about the world a little bit differently,” she says, “We’re so connected in this way, it makes the world feel a little bit smaller.”