Perfect Match

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“Perfect Match,” New Era, Sept. 1997, 12

Perfect Match

Sometimes life or death depends on finding a …

Austin Gunner needed a bone marrow transplant, and he needed one fast. Because he was born with a rare blood disease called osteopetrosis, his skull was malformed, and he was slowly losing his vision. And because it’s usually difficult to find donors and patients who match tissue types perfectly, Austin’s wait dragged on from days to weeks to months.

“There are so many people waiting, so many children waiting [for bone marrow transplants], and they don’t have enough donors,” said Eva McClellan, Austin’s grandmother. “We were told that finding a donor is like turning over rocks, and the more rocks you have to turn over, the better chance you have to find somebody who matches.”

Austin’s disease was like a time bomb ticking—the longer his transplant was delayed, the more havoc osteopetrosis could cause to his body. Finally, after five long months of searching, a suitable donor was found, and Austin was on his way to recovery.

After watching his newborn nephew, Austin, suffer so long before receiving a transplant, Eric McClellan, a 17-year-old priest from the San Jose California Stake, decided to do a good turn. Now this wasn’t your typical, daily good turn expected of all Scouts. Rather it was a three-month-long Eagle Scout project inspired by a woman who willingly gave her bone marrow to a five-month-old boy she didn’t even know. Eric used his Eagle Scout project as a way to return her good deed. He did this by organizing a bone marrow registry drive in conjunction with his stake’s blood drive.

To begin his project, Eric met with a Red Cross representative and discussed the immediate needs of his community. Eric and other Scouts under his direction then distributed the fliers and some sign-up sheets to the wards in his stake. Then, after weeks of reminders, Eric and his mom got on the phone the night before the drive to call and remind all 108 people on the sign-up sheets.

All this reminding paid off. The next evening 68 pints of blood were collected, and 34 people were tested for bone marrow and put on the national registry.

During the drive Eric, his dad, and one of his friends labeled the blood bags, another Scout escorted donors to the refreshment table, and some adults in the stake typed Red Cross forms. “I learned a lot about organization and organizing people to do the jobs that they are supposed to and getting everything to run smoothly,” Eric said.

Through his service, Eric hopes to spare others the suffering that his nephew and the rest of his family had to go through while waiting for a suitable bone marrow donor. Remembering the difficult five months before Austin had his transplant, Eric says, “It was hard for my sister [Austin’s mom], because she had to just keep hoping that there would be someone found that would match him. If they find someone from my drive to be a donor for someone else, I’ll feel good.”

Illustrated by Roger Motzkus

(Above) Eric with his nephew Austin, who was saved by a bone marrow donor. (Right) Eric led fellow Scouts in a project to find and register more potential life savers. (Photography courtesy of family.)