Story and Photo by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
On Sept. 16, the day of the Be the Match donor drive signup event at Town Hall, Kim Kalman received an anonymous letter from the wife of the recipient of her bone marrow. According to Be the Match rules, all correspondence between donors and recipients has to remain anonymous until a year after the donation.
Kalman donated bone marrow on Nov. 23, 2022, at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. All she knew about her recipient at the time was that he was a 62-year-old man, that he was a “big man,” and that she was his perfect match.
“The odds of me getting a letter on the day I’m holding a donor drive signup is kind of spooky, in a way,” Kalman said. “Now I know he’s married, which I didn’t know before today.”
“The timeline of life in his instance was truly defined by your choice to donate,” wrote the recipient’s wife. “Because of your blessing, we were given the gift of more moments and more memories. Because of your blessing, we were given the opportunity to change our perspective (and) to alter our priorities. To simply say thank you just isn’t enough. He is my everything. As many people do, we’ve had trials and tribulations, joys and successes and, with that, I would do it all over again.”
“I don’t think that people realize that, to me, (it) was a simple gift of donating bone marrow because I really didn’t give up an organ,” Kalman explained. “Sure, to a point, bone marrow is one of your organs, but to think that you could give something so important and so special to somebody by just doing something so simple is remarkable. I don’t think people realize how easy that could be. If it happened to one of your family members, you’d want to know that there are people out there, willing to donate.”
In addition to the Sept. 16 event encouraging people to sign up to donate bone marrow, Be the March will also be a presence at the 2024 Relay For Life event.
In 2009, co-coordinator Lynn Dingey said Relay For Life was encouraging people to sign up to be bone marrow donors “because of a friend of ours, Dan McBride, that was going through needing a bone marrow transplant. He has passed, but he is who we did the push for originally at Relay. It’s amazing that they called how many years later. You never know. You’re going to match or you’re not going to. It might take years, or you might never get a call. So definitely, we will have it at Relay next year.”
Kalman signed up to be a bone marrow donor at that 2009 event, and she received the call that she was a perfect match in 2022.
Dan McBride, Relay For Life’s 2009 honorary survivor, died in 2015 of mantle cell lymphoma. In an Island Dispatch article in 2008, McBride talked about his battle with cancer. He said that, shortly before the 2006 “October Surprise” storm, he underwent a bone marrow transplant at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Ninety-five percent of my bone marrow was cancer."
Kalman’s daughter, who was at the Be The Match signup event, and who, herself, signed up to potentially be a bone marrow donor, said of her mother’s choice to donate her bone marrow on the day before Thanksgiving of 2022, “I’m not surprised because she’s been doing Relay For Life for 10-15 years now. She’s very selfless and kind of took it to the next level by having to go under and doing that big of a procedure. And dropping everything and being like, ‘You know what? I’m going to save this dude.’ I feel it encapsulated who she is pretty much to a T.”
When asked how she would encourage more people to sign up to be bone marrow donors, Kalman said, “I would say get educated and realize how simple of a procedure this really is, compared to so many things in life. And put yourself in the sad circumstances, trying to envision one of your family members coming down with a cancer diagnosis and having nobody matching him. There’s got to be more people out there who are willing and able to do something so simple. Life is so short, and we’ve all lost people to something like this. To me, that’s the least I could do.”
“We talk about you often,” wrote the wife of Kalman’s recipient. “He regularly says, ‘I wonder if my donor’… usually followed by something very humorous. We talk about how we want to give forward in your honor of your gift. Blessings to you.”
“We all have our own family members who are sick,” Kalman said. “We all have people around us on Grand Island who are sick and suffering. We all can make our own community a little bit better by doing something this simple.”