Soldier donates bone marrow, saves life

by 2nd Lt. Jean P. Tomte
10th AAMDC Public Affairs

Capt. Brent Johnson, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 10th Army and Air Missile Defense Command, never had a second thought after registering in a bone marrow donor drive. Seven years later, he was notified that he was a preliminary match to someone he has never met who was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. Suddenly Johnson was presented with an opportunity to save a life.

In bone marrow procedures, it is essential that the donor perfectly match the recipient. Blood tests are conducted to ensure there will be a suitable genetic match. The donor’s healthy cells are then infiltrated into the patient’s blood stream where bone marrow will regenerate.

The C.W. Bill Young/Department of Defense Marrow Donor Center contacted Johnson to ask if he could provide a blood sample to determine if he was a perfect match for a recipient.

“I went to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for a blood test. A couple weeks later a lady from C.W. Bill Young called me and said, ‘Congratulations, you are the perfect match.’ The recipient is a 14-year-old boy from Sweden,” Johnson said. “He suffered from severe aplastic anemia.”

Aplastic anemia is a blood disorder in which the body’s bone marrow does not make enough new blood cells.

“In the back of my mind, I was just thinking about changing someone’s life who never had a chance to play sports, someone who has been stuck in the hospital and someone who could not hang out with friends,” Johnson said when asked if he was concerned about the surgery.

“When Brent said he was going to do this I wasn’t surprised. It was something that fit his personality,” said his former commander, Col. Anthony English. “That’s just him, that’s his personality. Everything he did was for someone else. It made my heart feel good. He’s just a great young leader.”

English, currently the deputy G3 operations officer for U.S. Army Europe, pointed toward the Army values.

“He came to me and said that he had registered as a bone marrow donor and that he was a match and that he was going to go through with it,” English said. “When you think about it, a decision like that reflects on the Army values perfectly. It’s personal courage.”

Serving as English’s adjacent when the unit was the 357th Air Missile Defense, Johnson didn’t necessarily look at it that way.

“It is a humbling experience to help somebody out when you know you are directly helping somebody,” he said.

“Although he knew it would be uncomfortable, all he cared about was doing the right thing and changing someone’s life,” said Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm Mickler, Johnson’s non-commissioned officer in charge.

The procedure involved the removal of bone marrow from the hip bone via two syringes. While painful, it didn’t involve Johnson losing much work or time.

“I arrived at Georgetown University a week before the procedure. They removed a pint of my blood and returned it to me during the procedure. After the procedure, I had a day of recovery and then flew back to Germany the next day,” he said.

He arrived back in Europe on a Saturday and was back at work on Monday.
Would he do it again?

“Oh, yeah, definitely. It wasn’t that bad,” he said. “I went into it thinking it was going to be the worst pain of my life. But really, it wasn’t that bad.”