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Great Lakes Bulletin

NSGL command master chief is bone marrow donor

NSGL CMDCM Leon Walker, Jr., undergoes a bone marrow procedure at a Virginia clinic. The recipient is a 52-year-old woman he has never met.
NSGL CMDCM Leon Walker, Jr., undergoes a bone marrow procedure at a Virginia clinic. The recipient is a 52-year-old woman he has never met.

“The pain is temporary. It’s worth it, to be able to help somebody,” said CMDCM Leon R. Walker Jr., Naval Station Great Lakes command master chief. The Cleveland, Ohio native returned from Washington, D.C., on  Jan. 17, where he was a Department of Defense bone marrow donor for a 52-year-old woman he has never met.
    Walker was a recruiter in Cleveland, Ohio when he signed up to be a donor in 1994.
    “I always wanted to be able to save someone’s life,” he said.
    Years passed and the master chief forgot about it until he received an email in 2003, when he was leading chief petty officer (LCPO) at QM/SM”A” School at Great Lakes.
    “They asked me if I still wanted to donate and I said yes.  I found that you enter the system and wait.”
    He received another email this past November, was sent a kit to get his blood drawn and traveled to Virginia for a physical. He was also notified in November that a match had been found.
    “Once I received the email and phone calls, I spoke with my CO and XO, who are also on the list along with their wives to donate, and they supported me 100 percent. The chances of being a match for someone are one in 100,000,” Walker noted.
    He traveled to Washington, D.C. with his girl friend on Jan. 11, with DoD paying for hotel accommodations, a driver and per diem for both of them.
    “It was mandatory for someone to come along with the person who is serving as donor,” the master chief explained.
    For the first five days he received two shots a day to the back of his arm. On the last day of receiving the shots he was hooked up to a machine which collected 700 million stem cells. “They were only supposed to take 350 but said that since the military personnel are in such good shape they take more from them,” Walker said.
    He had some sleepless nights and his joints ached but the master chief was glad he had volunteered.
    He cannot have any direct contact with the recipient for a year, but may contact her through an intermediary by mail before that time.
    “I hope I get a chance to meet her in a year,” he said, noting that the procedure was worth it. “It’s so good to be able to help someone. My pain was temporary; hers had been bad for a long time. I could do it again,” he added, “because now I’m mentally prepared.”
    The master chief, who will retire from Great Lakes in two years, said he wanted to go to Afghanistan for his last two years in the Navy but that didn’t work out. “I appreciate the fact that I was able to save someone’s life this way,” he said.   
    “We lead, motivate and manage sailors but don’t always feel as if we are responsible for saving someone’s life. Here was a chance for me to do that directly.”   
    Anyone interested in becoming a bone marrow donor should visit BeThematch.org.

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