UCR student’s bone marrow donation saves life of Iowa man

Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

Alex Fishburn is a 22-year-old history major at UC Riverside. Grant Vietor is a 46-year-old basketball coach from Iowa. You would be hard-pressed to find two individuals more distinct than these two, but thanks to a recent bone marrow transplant, Fishburn and Vietor now share a lifelong bond.

In 2008, Fishburn signed up to be a potential bone marrow donor while giving blood to a LifeStream Blood Donor Center in Ontario, Calif. Two years later, he got a call saying that he was a match and was needed to save the life of a man in Iowa.

Vietor was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. He received treatment and was in remission for about a year and a half, but the disease returned in December 2011. According to doctors, his only hope for survival was a bone marrow transplant. As it turned out, Fishburn was a perfect “ten-for-ten match.”

Vietor received the transplant on Valentine’s Day 2012. The operation was successful and Vietor’s cancer now appears to be gone for good.

“I thought I was going to die. But thanks to [Alex], I have a life now. And I’m doing great,” said Vietor in a press release. “I wanted to make sure that I really thank him and his family for what he has done for me and my family. That’s very important to me.”

According to Fishburn, the operation was not as painful as people would think.

“You get injections for five days before. The injections force your stem cells out of the bone marrow, and they just harvest the cells. It takes about two-and-half hours. And they give your blood back to you and then you go home,” said Fishburn in a press release.

Fishburn and Vietor had never even heard about one another prior to the bone marrow transplant. That all changed on March 27, 2013 when Vietor and his family flew over 1,500 miles to meet Fishburn and his family for the first time.

Upon meeting each other at Ontario International Airport, the two shook hands, shared an intimate hug and exchanged a few words in private. The embrace was welcomed by a round of applause from spectators and family members surrounding the two.

“He looks lively and fine, a little bit better than I imagined,” Fishburn said about Vietor.

Vietor and his family first contacted Fishburn via email and then through the phone to thank him. They planned a trip to California to meet the young man and in late March, the Vietor family finally met with the man responsible for saving Grant Vietor’s life. Both families reportedly planned a trip all across Southern California—a trip that included an Angels baseball game, the mountains and the beach.

According to Be the Match, a bone marrow donation organization, the odds that a donor’s bone marrow will match a patient’s and go on to donate is one in 540. Fishburn and Vietor managed to beat those odds.

 

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