Photo Courtesy of Kelby Wenger
The first time Kelby Wenger came across the National Marrow Donation Program’s table in The Quad last Easter she kept walking.
Wenger, management junior, remembered reading a newspaper article when she was younger describing the severe pain involved with donating bone marrow. Wenger’s childhood fear returned as she walked past the volunteers asking students for signatures, thinking she would never donate bone marrow.
Wenger is happy she changed her mind nine months later. Wenger completed a treatment of injections during Winter Break that will save the life of a stranger, whom without her stem cells, has no chance of living.
The Dean’s List student, McCoy scholarship recipient and active member of Campus Crusade for Christ said “scaredy cat” tendencies got the best of her the first time she passed the table in The Quad, but quickly had a change of heart.
Everything changed the next day after Wenger attended an event put on by a Christian group on campus called M.A.Z.E. Wenger said a Christian illusionist at the event shared his story in which a 19-year-old girl he had never met saved his life by donating her bone marrow while he was battling leukemia.
“After that I felt God was convicting me to stand up and do this,” Wenger said. “The next day I went back to the table and signed up and had my cheek swabbed for DNA by a volunteer. I figured that if I was a match for someone that I’d deal with that then.”
Wenger said she received a call six months later informing her she was a potential match for a 63-year-old man with leukemia. Wenger received another call a month later after a round of preliminary health questions and having her blood work done. She was told she was the best match and would be donating not bone marrow, but peripheral blood stem cells.
Bill Wenger, Kelby’s father, said he was initially concerned donating bone marrow would be too painful for Kelby, and was relieved when they found out she would be donating her stem cells instead.
“We looked up the information about the donation procedure and the recovery time because we were worried about how much school Kelby might miss,” he said. “We also looked into how much pain the procedure would inflict.”
Kelby Wenger said she rearranged her final exam schedule so she could take her last final Dec. 10 before going to Baylor Hospital in Dallas, close to her hometown of Denton, to begin her treatment.
Stem cell donation is a nonsurgical procedure in which the donor is given injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in their bloodstream for five days, according to the National Marrow Donor Program’s website. The donor then goes through a separate donation procedure.
“I was scared that if something happened to me during that time he would have died,” Kelby Wenger said. “They were getting rid of his immune system so they could fill him up with mine. He’ll have my immune system, my blood and even my allergies, so I hope he doesn’t like desserts with nuts on them or cats.”
Kelby Wenger was able to bring the medication for her injections home and was given some of her shots by her uncle, who is a paramedic, which her father said was comforting.
The side effects of the shots were similar to those that come with having the flu, Kelby Wenger said.
“I would play my guitar for about five minutes and get so tired that I would have to stop,” she said. “Simple things like putting on my makeup would completely drain me, and I would have to lie down, and I was achy all over.”
Kelpby Wenger said she had to go through the donation process twice to make up for the size difference between her and the approximately 250 pound recipient.
“It wasn’t invasive, and it wasn’t really a big deal, and the symptoms could have been a lot worse,” she said. “It was such a small thing to sacrifice to save this man’s life.”
Amy Searle, studio art junior, one of Wenger’s friends and fellow CRU member, said she considers Wenger the perfect person possible to donate their stem cells.
“Kelby is the most energetic, optimistic, smiley, Jesus-loving person I know,” Searle said. “We weren’t close when she first signed up to do this, but I was so jealous at the time that she had this opportunity.”
Searle said Kelby Wenger is now a close friend and wishes she could also be match to donate stem cells.
Kelby Wenger’s father said he was also moved by his daughter’s story, and has signed up to be a donor while also encouraging friends to do the same. She said it has been a humbling experience to save a complete stranger’s life.
“In about three weeks I’ll find out how my recipient is doing,” Kelby Wenger said. “I care for him and am praying for him all the time. I don’t know him, but I know I love him.”