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Bone Marrow Donation: Could you be one?

Fellowship Story Showcase

Bone Marrow Donation: Could you be one?

Picture of Liane Roth
Antelope Valley Press
Sunday, December 20, 2009

It was more than 15 years ago when Terry Judge — then a Palmdale city councilman and Los Angeles County sheriff’s lieutenant — heard about a bone marrow donor registration drive in east San Gabriel Valley for a little boy stricken with cancer.

“It struck me at the moment — I have a son — what if my son was dying and needed to f nd a donor,” said Judge, a captain with the Sheriff’s Department who now lives in Santa Clarita.

So Judge drove to Mount San Antonio College, where the drive was taking place, gave a sample of blood and went on his way.He wasn’t a match for the little boy whose condition prompted that particular drive, so Judge more or less let the matter slip his mind.

That is until a couple of years later when Judge got a telephone call from a representative with the National Bone Marrow Donor program informing him he might be a candidate for a donation.

“It was May of 1995. They said I was a potential match — ‘Can you come in and give more blood?’ — for a deeper analysis." 

Judge drove to a Red Cross facil-ity in Los Angeles to give a second round of blood samples.

Doctors look for a donor who matches their patient’s tissue type, specifically their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. HLAs are proteins — or markers — found on most cells in the body. The immune system uses these markers to recognize which cells belong in your body and which do not. The closer the match between the patient’s HLA markers and the donor’s, the better for the patient.

“A couple weeks later I got a call I was a perfect match,” Judge said.

Judge’s wife, Kathi, and their children were supportive of him during the entire process, as were co-workers and friends.

When asked if he was nervous, Judge replied, “No. Not at all. I’ve been a cop for over 30 years now. I got into this to help people — to make a difference in the world.

”Arrangements were made for Judge to go to a hospital for the procedure.

Judge checked in on a Thursday night and on Friday, after being put under general anesthesia, bone marrow was harvested from the back of his pelvic bone and hip.

“I’m a big-boned guy so they took all they could get. For me it was uncomfortable. Guys who are active — our bones are more dense so it’s a little more work.

“I went home Saturday morning — my back was sore — my lower back felt a little sore for a couple days. Then I was fine.

”After a patient receives bone marrow, he or she must wait a year before contacting the donor. 

Judge said he didn’t grasp how he affected the lives of so many people as a result of undergoing what he described as the minor inconvenience of a couple of days’ discomfort until the next year when he received cards and letters from Dave and Patty Bochenek of Cincinnati, Ohio, their children and several relatives, thanking Judge for saving Dave’s life.

Dave Bochenek had leukemia, and at one point was so sick the parish priest came to administer last rites; without a bone marrow transplant, he was not expected to survive.

“I’ll never forget opening those letters. I started crying — I didn’t re“I’ll never forget opening those letters. I started crying — I didn’t realize whose lives you impact by this one simple procedure. I still have those letters Dave, his wife and his daughters sent me.

”The Judges visited Ohio that same year to meet the Bocheneks. The two families have become close friends, traveling to Hawaii together and celebrating the 10th anniversary of Dave’s bone marrow transplant in 2005 with a family-style reunion.“We’re like an extended family,” Judge said.

“We’re the Judge-Bochenek family. His mom always says she’s got another son.

“For anyone out there, when you donate bone marrow you’re not just helping the sick person; you’re helping children, a wife, mom, dad — the whole family.

“Why not do it? It doesn’t cost you anything and it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give — to save a life.

“Bottom line — people ask ‘Would you do it again?’ I don’t even bat an eye — absolutely.”