Lifestyle

Bremerton electrician donates bone marrow to boy

Jake Purcey, a Bremerton native, recently flew to Washington D.C. to donate bone marrow to a 13-year-old boy with aplastic anemia. Purcey’s tissue matched a sample in the database of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Jake Purcey, a Bremerton native, recently flew to Washington D.C. to donate bone marrow to a 13-year-old boy with aplastic anemia. Purcey’s tissue matched a sample in the database of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

Perhaps we are snowballs under sunshine, melting as seasons change and calendar pages turn, inevitably evaporating.

For some, the process is too fast.

That’s why Jake Purcey, 22, is a bone marrow donor.

A 2004 Olympic High School graduate and electrician for the Department of Defense (DoD) at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Purcey is a Bremerton native, born and raised.

In December 2007 he joined the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, a transplant therapy program that treats about 70 fatal diseases by coordinating tissue matches between at-risk patients and volunteer donors.

Donors provide tissue samples, either through oral swabs or a blood sample, and their DNA is submitted into a nationwide database where it may or may not find a match.

Purcey, along with about 20 coworkers, provided four Buccal oral swabs of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue shortly after registering in December. After providing the tissue sample, Purcey continued his day-to-day activities. Then nothing for months until a phone call in March confirming the match.

“I didn’t even remember what they were talking about,” Purcey said, recalling the time between his original swab sample and the phone call.

A 13-year-old boy with aplastic anemia, a condition where the body stops producing enough new blood cells, needed a donor. If untreated, Purcey explained, the rare condition is fatal.

After the March phone call, Purcey signed consent forms confirming his desire to donate, completed follow-up tests to determine if he was the best match and learned how the entire process worked.

Meanwhile, the 13-year-old boy waited in a hospital.

Finally, two weeks ago, Purcey flew to Washington D.C. en route to Georgetown University Hospital where the procedure was completed.

“I’d never done anything like this before,” said Purcey, who has never had surgery or even broken a bone.

The program allows donors to back out at anytime, but Purcey was committed.

“I had people ask me why I was doing it,” he said. “I think the real question is why wouldn’t I do it?”

And so he did.

The procedure lasted about two hours as doctors drew a pint-and-a-half of marrow, poking two syringes into Purcey’s lower back directly into his bone. Sedated the entire time, Purcey said the operation was painless.

“But your energy is just gone,” he said of waking up.

And even today, two weeks removed, Purcey feels a little sluggish. It takes between four to six weeks to naturally replace the amount of marrow Purcey gave, according to the National Marrow Donor Program Web site.

While the operation was successful on Purcey’s end, he knows little about the boy’s future. Doctors protect the psyche of both the donor and patient by restricting direct contact for at least one year, meaning Purcey won’t know until next September whether his marrow actually saved the boy’s life.

The chances of success are good, Purcey added, but not guaranteed.

Asked if he’d like to meet the boy he presumably saved, Purcey was stoic.

“Yes, but it’s up to him, really,” Purcey said.

Until — and if — that day comes, Purcey hopes more people register to donate bone marrow.

“I’d rather people know about opportunities to donate bone marrow than know about me,” he said. “Picture your 13-year-old son, friend or brother.”

The transition back to work and day-to-day life has been OK, Purcey said, because of support around him.

“My management at work has been super supportive,” he said. “My friends, my coworkers, my family have all been supportive.”

Purcey won’t call himself a hero, but he understands the magnitude of his actions.

“The way I look at it is, if I die now, I saved somebody’s life,” he said.

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