Originally Published: November 26, 2013 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Tyler Banks may only be 29-years-old, but he's already working on crossing things off his bucket list.
Last week, Tyler, a Prescott High School graduate and former wrestler, underwent the painful process of donating bone marrow to save the life of a woman he has not met, and may never meet.
Back home in Prescott for his recovery period and to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family, Tyler gingerly lowers his 6-foot 4-inch frame onto the couch. Band-Aids cover the two large puncture wounds located on the back of his hips.
"It's something I've wanted to do and I can cross this off my bucket list. It was an opportunity that I feel blessed that I was given," Tyler said. "It's an opportunity to save a life."
Tyler signed up for the Department of Defense's bone marrow registry while he was in boot camp for the Coast Guard more than six years ago.
Bone marrow helps treat blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia.
According to Be The Match, a bone marrow registry, seven out of 10 people don't have a matching donor in their family. In order to find a donor, doctors look for someone who matches their patient's tissue type, specifically their human leukocyte antigen (HLA). The closer the HLA match between the donor and patient, the more successful the transplant.
About six-months ago, Tyler was called about being a possible match for a 21-year-old female recipient. After additional medical tests and blood work, doctors determined that Tyler was a perfect match for the woman.
It was the second time Tyler had been contacted about being a possible donor. The first time he was called he ended up not being the best match for the recipient.
"He's always been a different kind of kid. He cares about people so much," Tyler's father, Richard Banks, said. "So when he said he was going to be flying to Georgetown to do this, I said 'Tyler, do you know how painful that is?' he said 'I've heard.' But, that's just Tyler."
Nearly 50 percent of people who sign up to donate bone marrow end up backing out at the last minute, Tyler said. Even though donors can pull out anytime up to a week before the scheduled procedure, that wasn't an option he was willing to take.
"The recipient is kept completely anonymous. All the recipient knows is that I was the best bone marrow match," Tyler said. "After one year, if I keep in contact with my coordinator, and I say I am open to meeting the recipient and she is open to meeting me, we can schedule that. It's done that way so that there is no shady business involved."
In preparation for the transplant procedure, recipients receive high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to kill diseased cells. Due to her weakened immune system from the chemotherapy, Tyler's recipient got an infection a week before he was ready to fly to Washington, D.C. for the procedure. The infection pushed back the donation date a week.
Once the recipient was cleared for the transplant, Tyler and his best friend, Brad Shaffer, also a former PHS wrestler, took off for Washington D.C.
"Us wrestlers stick together," Tyler said. "You will not find a more closely knit group than the Prescott High School wrestling team. We are a family."
Taking full advantage of their time in D.C. before Tyler's procedure, the two men toured the town.
"I told him that the first day I'm going to be mobile, so let's walk all of the monuments that are humanly possible," Tyler said. "It was an incredible experience."
On the day of the procedure, Tyler's bone marrow was harvested through the insertion of a large gauge needle into the back of each of his hipbones. He was under sedation throughout the entire process.
"The needle was the biggest needle they use medically. It's about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen," Tyler said. "It was that thick and it was long."
After harvesting bone marrow from Tyler, doctors immediately transplanted the cells into the recipient through a central IV line. The process is similar to a blood transfusion. The transplanted cells will travel through the recipient's body and settle into her bone marrow, called engraftment, where they will begin to form new cells.
"I played football for a week on a broken leg, but this scares the hell out of me," Richard Banks said about the procedure. "But think of her, for the first time in who knows how many years, she's got the chance to live."
Following the procedure, Tyler stayed in the hospital for one day and then transferred to an adjacent hotel for another day.
Unlike the recipient, whose recovery process can take as long as 100 days, Tyler will be taking it easy for about two weeks. During that time, Tyler can't lift more than 20 pounds and has keep his wounds clean and free from infections. Pain medication helps manage his discomfort and soreness.
Despite the pain involved with the procedure, Tyler said he wouldn't think twice if he were called again to donate.
"You get to wake up knowing you saved a life," Tyler said. "That's awesomeness right there. That's the gift that I am being able to walk away with."
After his recovery period ends, Tyler will return to his duties as a Damage Controlman with the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami, Fla.
For more information on patient support or to register as a donor, visit www.bethematch.org or call 888-999-6743.
Follow Tamara Sone on Twitter @PDCtsone