Team Bliss helps one of its own: Hundreds turn out for bone marrow registry drive
Sgt. Robert Larson,
24th Press Camp Headquarters:
The Fort Bliss community came together Friday to help one of their own.
Sgt. Steve Thompson, a Soldier with 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, who has been diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, an extremely aggressive form of cancer, he is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.
Burkitt’s lymphoma is one type of a group of malignant diseases known as the non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. These lymphomas are very similar to leukemia. As with other cancers, the exact cause is not known. This malignancy grows rapidly and a person who appeared in good health a month ago may now be critically ill.
Thompson, a three-deployment veteran, started experiencing symptoms last November. He initially thought he had just overeaten at Thanksgiving dinner. But after a few days, he was dealing with severe headaches.
Eventually, the lymphoma caused tumors to grow on the exterior of his head. It started to shut down his kidneys. Eventually they did the right tests and came back with a diagnosis in December. Thompson had Stage IV B Burkitt’s lymphoma.
His family and friends were in shock. Here was a man who had served three deployments downrange, strong and powerful, laid low by cancer. His wife initially didn’t want to believe that the doctors were right.
“He’s only 32. How can he have cancer?” Thompson’s wife Christina asked.
Many of his neighbors and friends couldn’t believe this was happening to Thompson, someone who had always been there to help them in the past.
“Hopefully we get a match from the drive today and he gets the help he needs,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Messinger, a neighbor and friend of the Thompsons. “I’m sorry to see it happen to someone like Steve.”
The cancer eventually spread throughout his body, including his kidneys, liver and brain. His entire lymphatic system was in danger of shutting down, killing him. Doctors started Thompson on an aggressive chemotherapy program, and by March he was told the cancer was in remission.
While Thompson’s family and friends were happy to hear the news, his wife was skeptical. The doctors had missed the cancer before in November. Her concerns were well founded when the doctors found in May that while the cancer may have been gone from Thompson’s body, it had resisted the chemo and was still active in his head. He would need a bone marrow transplant if he had any hope of living.
Thompson said he is in good spirits, receiving more tests at a hospital in Houston, awaiting the bone marrow transplant to save his life. His friends at Sunrise Baptist Church, along with contacts at Fort Bliss, arranged the bone marrow drive in hopes of finding a donor within Thompson’s Army family.
The drive was organized by Thompson’s family, friends and members of his church. Held at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy and at Freedom Crossing, the drive registered more than 400 new donors to the Department of Defense bone marrow donor registry.
While all the people were there to help the Thompsons, many knew that if they weren’t a match for Thompson, they could still be a match for another person.
“This will help not only his family, but countless other families across the U.S.,” said Brig. Gen. Dennis Doyle, commander of William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
Doyle’s sentiment was echoed by many of the Soldiers and civilians who came in to get their cheek swabbed and to register to be donors.
Spc. Megan Reilly, a Soldier assigned to B Company, 31st Combat Support Hospital, said that she hoped that if it was her family who was in need, that the Fort Bliss and Army communities would step up and help.
“In the Army, we are all family,” Reilly said.
So there is some hope for the Thompson family that a donor may be found from the Soldiers and others who came in Friday. Christy and their three children are optimistic, seeing the outpouring of support from the Fort Bliss community as something to be positive about.
“It is very nice for them to help my dad,” said Thompson’s son Richard.
“They don’t know my dad, they don’t know my family, but they are coming out here using their time to help us,” said Raven Sippel, Thompson’s stepdaughter.
Only time will tell. According to Thompson’s family friend and drive volunteer Erica Parenteau, the results of the DNA matching could take from three to six weeks. Until then, they continue to wait and hope for the best.
According to Lori Kuczmanski, a representative from the blood donor center here, the donor center still has many swab kits left from the drive and anyone still wanting to register can do so at the donation center, Bldg. 7167, near WBAMC.
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