A Texas U.S. Army soldier was inspired to register people to donate bone marrow to those in need. To date he has signed up more than 3,000 troops.
Spc. Christian Sutton, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, told the Military Times he was inspired to register people as bone marrow donors while at a concert, adding that he “liked the idea” and thought it would be “easy enough” to accomplish in the Army. To date, Sutton has managed to register 3,982 people on his own, while Sutton’s Army team has managed to register more than 5,000 soldiers.
Bone marrow is defined as being the “soft, fatty tissue” found inside bones. Bone marrow contains cells that end up creating blood cells and platelets, making it responsible for creating new blood cells each day, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Because bone marrow produces red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells that fight against infections, and platelets that help to control bleeding, the absence of bone marrow can be detrimental.
“I saw a table registering people who are going to the National Bone Marrow Registry,” Sutton explained to the outlet. “I really liked the idea. If it was simple enough to register drunk people in a mosh pit it was probably easy enough to do in the Army.”
Soldier signs up thousands of troops for bone marrow donation https://t.co/7SZUhF7Glj— Military Times (@MilitaryTimes) November 29, 2023
While there are 9 million potential bone marrow donors in the United States, data from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) shows that those numbers don’t necessarily guarantee a match for those in need.
Out of the 9 million potential donors, only 3.9 million make up the American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and Native Hawaiian ethnic and racial communities.
After reaching out to the Department of Defense Marrow Donar Program, also called, Salute to Life, Sutton and a group of Army troops began a soldier-led initiative called Operation Ring The Bell to streamline the process for troops who wish to donate bone marrow.
In a post on Reddit, Sutton explained that “all military personnel” who want to donate bone marrow must go through Salute of Life, described as being “the middle man.”
Sutton has seen first-hand the effects of bone marrow transplants as he has watched as family and friends battled cancer and other diseases that required bone marrow transplants.
“I remember seeing my family struggle to find bone marrow matches for so long,” Sutton said. “I try to remind my fellow soldiers during the events, that one (bone marrow) match can save a life.”
Sutton went on to explain how Salute of Life essentially has roughly 85 employees, with only one employee being responsible for compiling new donor registrations across all the military branches.
“Previously there was never any collaborative effort between volunteers,” Sutton explained. “No resources and techniques, teamwork, communication, or continuity between any of these amazing volunteers. That results in every single volunteer who reaches out, having to learn how to do this from basically scratch.”
Nicknamed the “Fort Bliss Bone Marrow Guy,” Sutton added that’s what Operation Ring The Bell aims “to fix.”
In certain cases, a person in need of bone marrow can find a donor in a relative, however, in 70% of cases, representing 12,000 people, that’s not possible, according to the HRSA.
“It was pretty eye-opening to be able to find a way of serving that both fit within what I found important, as well as finding that much support from the leader that I’ve met while doing this,” Sutton added. “I think it fits within what the Army does. It’s just a different avenue of service and different idea of service, but it’s all service.