A SMALL SACRIFICE: Duke nurse becomes hospital patient, donates cells
Jackie McIntyre rested in a Duke hospital bed, white blankets nearly pulled up to her chin, as two long tubes transferred blood out of her arm, into a machine of pumps and centrifuges, and back into the other.
Any given day, 36-year-old nurse McIntyre can be found in the inpatient section of the Duke Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant unit. During her 12-hour shifts, she helps patients battling different blood and bone marrow cancers and sees them through their transplants, which deposit healthy cells into the body.
Nurses call their transplantation day “Day Zero,” or “new beginnings,” as McIntyre says. They sing happy birthday to the patients beginning their second chance at life.
After spending more than a decade on the national donor registry herself, McIntyre has been called upon to give a 44-year-old unknown woman with lymphoma her second chance.
McIntyre was hooked up to the machine Monday morning and began her 6-hour donation. Doctors and nurses dropped by, people she has worked with for more than five years, to give her a thumbs-up or to examine the Dunkin’ Donuts box in her little corner of the Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic. Above the donuts was a small printed sign that read, “Jackie ROCKS!”
McIntyre was in the outpatient clinic going through apheresis, where a donor's blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.
She said she was surprised to be a match, since it’s rare for African-American patients to find a suitable donor. Only 7 percent of potential adult donors in the Be the Match registry are African-American. Every year, more than 12,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma, for which a marrow or blood transplant may be the only cure, according to the national program.
Duke nurse Susan Drago worked with McIntyre just last week in the clinic, but now is at McIntyre’s bedside in hibiscus flower and dolphin scrubs, checking on how McIntyre is feeling, adjusting her arms and monitoring the clear bag filling with red stem cells.
“Good, we’re rockin’ now,” Drago said as she checked the fan belt separating the blood-forming cells. She added that she feels like a proud parent while watching her co-worker carry out a good deed. Bags of plasma and stem cells hang over the machine, proof of McIntyre’s work.
“That’s life right there, at its most basic level,” McIntyre said, looking at the bags.
She said she felt achy and 80 percent of her usual, energetic self. Ashley Carter, a friend who attends World Overcomers Christian Church with McIntyre, sat next to the bed as her support system. Carter said she didn’t hesitate when her friend asked her to come along.
“She cares for people doing this on a regular basis, and now she’s in the chair,” Carter said.
McIntyre said she’s watched a lot of her patients struggle, even the strong ones. They go through chemotherapy and then wait to see if it takes. They have the good days and the bad, when McIntyre helps them uphold their dignity and independence.
“Our patients stay with us for so long, you really get to know them,” she said. She’s brought them home-cooked meals, played video games with them and gotten to know their families. She becomes one of their pillars of support.
“I see it as a more intimate way of doing what I always do, as a nurse and a caregiver,” she said. “…This is lifesaving. This is a small sacrifice for me.”
Visit bethematch.org for more information on how to join the donor registry or learn more about the donation process.