Most people never get a chance to save someone’s life. Richard Hale has had several.
He received a lifesaving award in 2008 while he was working as a firefighter for the city of White Settlement. As a paramedic and police officer, he has given CPR numerous times, pulled people out of major car wrecks and burning houses.
But this summer, he got to save the life of a 5-year-old girl he’s never met. And that trumps all the others – by far.
Hale, a Decatur police officer who serves as school resource officer at Decatur High School, donated bone marrow June 2 for a young girl suffering from leukemia. He’s never met her – he doesn’t even know where she lives – and the donation was pretty painful for a few days.
But he’s never felt better about a save.
“All that seemed like a job,” he said. “But doing this, donating bone marrow, is more rewarding than that ever was. God has put it in my hands. It’s hard to explain.”
The story began in 1993, when Hale’s boss at the time had a daughter who needed bone marrow. Hale and most of his co-workers got their throats swabbed for a DNA test, and went on the national bone marrow donor registry.
Then, they went on with their lives.
According to bethematch.org, only one out of 500 registry donors will actually donate to a patient. Some donors may have a more common tissue type and be among many who match a patient, while others with an uncommon tissue type may never match a patient.
Or, they may be the only one out of 11 million registered donors who can save a person’s life.
That’s the position Hale found himself in, more than 20 years after registering.
“I got a call about a year ago and they said I would probably be a backup,” he said. He updated his information, but didn’t think much more about it until March – when he got a call that said he was a 100 percent match for a patient.
“I got a paper that said the donation is for a 5-year-old girl with lymphatic leukemia,” he said. “They can’t tell me where she’s from, but after a year, if her parents agree, we get to meet.”
When Hale agreed to donate, a procedure was set in motion that involved blood tests, physical and even mental exams, and a lot of paperwork. He had the option to back out at any time.
“They tell you that, then they say, ‘OK, here’s the moment of truth,'” he said. “‘You can back out at any time, but the next call we’re going to make is to the family members, telling them we have a match.’
“‘Once we’ve done that, she starts receiving chemo and radiation to kill off her bone marrow. They do that for two weeks. At that point, if she doesn’t get bone marrow, she’s going to die.'”
Hale never backed out, and you don’t have to be around him very long to understand why.
It might not show up on a cotton swab, but there’s a commitment to helping people in his DNA. His father, grandfather and step-dad were all police officers. He worked as a Fort Worth Police officer for six years before going and earning his paramedic’s license at UT-Southwestern Medical School. He was a firefighter with the City of White Settlement and a Newark Police officer before coming to Decatur more than six years ago.
Another reason is that he’s been on the receiving end of that kind of help.
“When my wife was pregnant with our sixth child, she developed a condition that’s very minor for you and me, but for a pregnant woman is very serious,” he said. “A lot of people donated blood to help our son.
“I thought about that when this opportunity arose, and there was no doubt in my mind I was going to go forward with this.”
After clearing every hurdle, Hale donated his bone marrow June 2, at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth.
“They treated me awesome,” he said – and it seemed he actually enjoyed the rare experience of getting to be an adult patient at a children’s hospital.
“I even got to pick what flavor air I wanted to breathe,” he laughed. “I got grape-flavored air.”
He was under general anesthesia during the actual donation, which is done in an operating room. Through a small incision at about the level of the top of the pants pocket, the doctor penetrates the hip bone with a needle to draw out bone marrow – in his case, about a quart.
Although he slept through that part, he’s not going to say it didn’t hurt when he woke up.
“The first day after the donation was really painful,” he said. “It felt like they broke my right hip. I couldn’t walk.”
He took the next day off, but returned to work the third day.
“It got better quickly,” he noted. “Every day was much, much better than the last, and now I’m 100 percent again.”
Complications from marrow donation are extremely rare. The amount of marrow donated does not weaken the bone or the body’s immune system, and most donors are back to their usual routine in a few days. The body replaces that amount of marrow naturally within four to six weeks.
Hale should have all his marrow back by the time he gets an update on the patient. At the six-month mark, he’s due for another update, and if her parents consent they can get in touch next June.
“I would be ecstatic to meet them,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s already working on setting up a bone marrow drive at Decatur High School.
“It’s a cotton swab in the cheek now, and you fill out a little paperwork,” he said. Or, you can even go online, order a packet and do the test at home.
Signing up isn’t a big deal – but if you’re a match, you get an opportunity to save someone’s life. There are few bigger deals than that.
“I see this as a calling from God,” Hale said. “It’s something He put in motion in 1993. God made everything work, just like He works in all our lives to bring us to a point.”
To join the registry, go to www.bethematch.org and click on “Donate Bone Marrow.” Order a do-it-yourself test kit, or watch for bone marrow registry drives in Wise County.