GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One day last November, Michael Cizek walked out of a library on the University of Florida campus.
The Cascade High School graduate was greeted by a fellow student who had a question.
“Hey, can you do this cheek swab?” he was asked.
The procedure is part of a registration program through Gift of Life. The Florida-based bone marrow registry program matches donors with patients fighting blood cancers, such as leukemia.
“You probably won’t get a call, but if you do, you could save someone’s life,” Cizek was told.
Cizek admits he didn’t really know much about what he was signing up for. “It sounded like a noble cause, so it was like, sure, why not?” he said.
He was told the chances were about 1 in 1,000 that any person who registers as a potential bone marrow donor with the program will get a call about a potential match. He thought little of it until a phone call six months later, in May. He was asked if he would be willing to get a blood test, the first step in being a potential match as a bone marrow donor.
This time he was told there was only about a 30 percent chance that he would qualify as the donor.
“Sure,” he responded, and scheduled the blood test for the following week. All he knew was the patient they were seeking a bone marrow transplant for was a 52-year-old man battling leukemia.
Two weeks later, Cizek, 20, was told he was a match. “At this point, I was just shocked,” he said. Majoring in finance, “I’m working with numbers a lot. I understand the odds of all this happening and how slim they are.”
Research has shown that younger donors, such as those between the ages of 18 and 44, provide the best chance for a successful bone marrow transplant, according to Be The Match, a national transplant organization.
Still, there was a lot to consider. Some donors said the process can be painful. With Cizek’s donation, doctors wanted to remove the bone marrow by inserting a needle into his pelvis. The surgical procedure requires anesthesia and spending a day or more in the hospital.
Some people take months to recover from the donation procedure.
There were personal considerations as well.
His sister, Alexandra, was graduating from Cascade on June 18. A family celebration was planned. Relatives were flying in.
And Cizek had been selected for an eight-week summer internship with the Fisher Investments in Camas, that was to begin a week later.
“There were a lot of emotions attached with this,” Cizek said.
Cizek said he and his family turned to their faith for guidance. His father, Rob Cizek, is executive pastor at Northshore Christian Church in south Everett.
His mother, Janice Cizek, is an assistant principal at Sultan Middle School. “We all prayed about it,” she said, asking: “Is this the right thing?”
Cizek said he also thought about the leukemia patient while weighing his decision. “This could be my dad,” he said. “I would want someone to help my family.
“In praying about it, I was led to understand that I should share my richness of health with this man who barely had any at all,” he said. “I started feeling at peace with the decision.”
With his university classes finished until fall, Cizek was staying for a few weeks at his parents’ home in Everett. He was asked to fly to a hospital in Washington, D.C. for blood tests, to get a physical and meet with doctors on May 24. “I was on the ground for 20 hours,” he said. “A one-night trip to the East Coast.”
The bone marrow donation was scheduled for June 9. He and his mother flew out the day before, arriving in time for dinner and to check into their hotel.
Cizek admits he didn’t sleep well, thinking about the surgery, wondering about the health of the recipient and worrying that he might oversleep.
He awoke at 5 a.m. Jet lagged from the three-hour time difference, it felt like 2 a.m. He and his mother were taken to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
The procedure took about two hours. Although he had been warned about pain following the procedure, when he awoke from the anesthesia, his discomfort on a zero-to-10 pain scale “was probably a two,” he said. “That was as bad as it got.”
Doctors took about a quart and a half of bone marrow from Cizek. Patients donating that much bone marrow often remain hospitalized overnight. By late afternoon, however, when a doctor came in to check on him, she concluded Cizek was ready to be discharged.
The next day, he and his mother took a walk near the Potomac River, visited Arlington National Cemetery and treated themselves at Georgetown Cupcake. Cizek marveled that one day after surgery, he was walking around the nation’s capital surrounded by tourists.
About 10 days later, he said he felt fully recovered.
Some may remember Cizek, a 2014 Cascade graduate, from being named to the high school’s hall of fame. He participated on the baseball team for four years, was a member of the swimming and dive teams, and was a drum major for the marching band for his last three years of high school.
On Aug. 6, Cizek and his dad began a five-day, cross-country trip to Florida in his red 1986 Toyota 4Runner. The day after he arrived on campus, he noticed he had a voicemail message. He recognized the number.
It was from Gift of Life, the bone marrow donor organization. He anticipated it was a promised update on the leukemia patient.
“I was a little nervous,” Cizek said. “After two months of waiting, finally, building up to that phone call.
“Up to that point I hadn’t heard anything,” he said. “There was this tension. You don’t know if it went well.”
He was told the man was eventually discharged from the hospital and is now recovering and resting at home.
“I was smiling and very excited,” Cizek said. “It was really, really good to hear.”
“I felt a sense of release,” he said. “And very, very happy.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.