Monday, May 20, 2013

Be the Match

I was maybe 12 years old, and my father and I were working in the shop.  Dad asked If I could go start a fire outside to burn a pile of sticks we had assembled earlier in the day.
       I asked him, "Do you have a match?"
       Without missing a beat he said, "Not since Superman died."
Perplexed, I left with a fresh matchbook in hand.  What did Superman have to do with this?

 I am a match.  Not to superman, but to a 61 year old female with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  While attending college at University of Minnesota, I had a good friend who was diagnosed with brain cancer.  In support of him, my fraternity shaved our heads.  Our bare heads in the middle of winter caught the attention of a lot of people, one of them was a Professor in the Agronomy Department, Professor Vance.  He encouraged us to continue our support by holding a "Be the Match" Bone Marrow Drive.  For those of us not familiar, there is a bone marrow registry that links potential donors with patients in need of bone marrow or Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC).
The next fall we paired with the U of M's Homecoming Blood drive and signed up 150 college students that were willing to have  a cheek swab and promised to answer the call when a complete stranger needed help. 

Before the end of 2012, I received a phone call from a Be The Match employee asking if I would go into my local clinic to get some extra blood samples to test if I was a potential match for a patient.  After about 9 vials of blood, I was on my way hopeful to help a person in need.

I had nearly forgotten about the blood samples, when I received another phone call in the beginning of April.  I was a match and chosen by the recipient as the lead candidate to donate my Peripheral Blood Stem Cells.  The collection would take place Late April or Early May.

As a caring individual my initial reaction was, "Of course!"  However, as a farmer, I knew that Late April and Early May usually meant planting season and one of the busiest times of the year. I talked to my parents to make sure that they were willing to pick up my load of work on the farm for a couple days if I agreed to donate.  Without hesitation, they said yes.

On May 1st, Kendra and I traveled to a Sioux Falls Hospital. It took about 10 hours in the hospital to process almost 30 liters of blood and spin out the Peripheral Blood Stem Cells that I had been building up for the prior 5 days.

You can see that I had two IV's: One for taking blood, and one for putting blood back in my body after being centrifuged.  The hardest part of the day was that I couldn't bend my arms, so Kendra had to feed me, scratch my itching nose, and keep me entertained for 10 hours.     

I'd love to go into detail about what a great experience I had.  The Nurses, Be the Match Staff, and Hospital made an incredible event go flawless. 

Donating PBSC was not painful.  I took shots for 5 days leading up to my donation.  The nurses as the Fairmont Medical Center were AWESOME to work with, even coming in on a Sunday just to help make it easier and more convenient for me to donate.  I took my shots in the Infusion Center, where many patients take Chemo.  It was cool to see the room filled with inspiration and encouragement, but its a room I hope to not see again.  The shots themselves weren't painful, but came with some side effects.  For me, I had "bone pains" and felt like I had the flu.  Others experience loss of appetite, sleep, and nausea.  The entire week I felt like my body was trying to do a lot, so I attempted to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take a break when needed.  I was able to perform all of my daily tasks on the farm, but some labor-intensive activities took me longer since I needed a break.

Being poked for 16-gauge IV's isn't something I want to do everyday, but the nurses at Avera Mckenna in Sioux Falls really made me feel special.  My ultrasound nurse, (Ultrasound to see exactly where the straigtest part of the veins in my arms were) greeted me by saying, "You're one of the donors. aren't you?  I could see the halo above your head when I walked in."  It just helped me remember why I was putting my body through the discomfort, and taking the time to help a stranger.  There are good people in the world, many of them are nurses.

I may never know if my donation helped prolong the life of the recipient.  I really don't know much about her, and might not ever meet her.  We have the option to know more about each other after a year has passed (If we both agree).  

If anyone has any questions about donating or signing up to the registry, here's a link: or give me a call.   

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How's work?

"How's work?" It's such an easy question, and for most anybody that answers it, there is a quick one-word response.

"Good" or "Busy"

For me, this simple question is loaded with a long explanation. I'm no longer selling seed in the two neighboring counties, and I've moved onto my dream career: Farming with my family.

I grew up on a 5th generation farm and since Highschool, I've known that eventually I wanted to follow my grandfather and father's footsteps and take over the family business. As of January 8th, I was given that opportunity.

I remember a trip to the State Capitol several years ago. My FFA State Officer team was meeting with the president of a farm lobby group, Kevin. Kevin asked us to introduce ourselves and as part of the introduction, tell him your dream job. I went first by saying, "my name is Dan Helvig and I just want to be a farmer when I grow up."

Kevin stopped the introductions immediately. "Just a farmer?!?!? Just!?!? Don't short-change yourself. As a farmer you need to be an entrepreneur, a master marketer, a constant learner, a hard worker, and a innovative businessman. Not to mention a plant biologist, agronomist, animal nutritionist and large engine mechanic. Farming was the occupation of our nations forefathers and Farmers will always be the most important occupation, because no doctor will find a cure for cancer if they're worried about where their next meal is coming from. No scientist will solve global warming if he's worried that his next meal isn't safe to eat, and no student can afford the time for more schooling if they need to grow their own food first."

Kevin's comments that day have always stuck with me, but as I start this new chapter in my life I think of these comments every day.