Alumna Maura McGrath ’09 reflects on her recent bone marrow donation

The two small holes in her hips and a little pain are the only reminders Maura McGrath '09 has of her recent surgery at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She says the slight discomfort is a small price to pay for the good she was doing.

Maura McGrath ’09 after receiving her degree at Commencement in May.

After two months of tests and meetings with doctors at the institute, McGrath underwent a two-hour procedure Oct. 1 to extract bone marrow from her hips to help a woman battling aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease.

“It is a little scary to go through a procedure like I did,” she says. “But I thought she could have children, she could be married. Can I really say no because I’m too busy or too scared?”

McGrath donated one liter of bone marrow through the National Marrow Donor Program, an organization that sponsors blood drives to find matches for patients who need transplants. McGrath first heard about the organization five years ago during a blood drive in her hometown of Ipswich, Mass., for a girl with leukemia. McGrath participated and agreed to have her name added to the bone marrow registry. In August, she received a call.

“Initially I was kind of surprised because I had forgotten about it,” she says.

McGrath was told she was a potential match for a woman with aplastic anemia, a condition in which bone marrow does not produce sufficient new blood cells. It can be fatal if left untreated. McGrath agreed to visit Dana-Farber for further testing to determine if she was a perfect match.

“They gave me time to think about it and said they would support me either way,” recalls McGrath. “It was a little nerve-wracking because it was a big deal. But since I’ve known people who battled cancer, I thought anything that could help someone else was worth it.”

Because of privacy laws, McGrath was only told the age and gender of the patient and her condition. McGrath can write a letter to the woman and meet her in the future if the patient agrees. Whether she meets the woman or not, McGrath says it was worth helping someone in need.

“I want to do my part, even though I don’t know this person, because she’s somebody’s family,” she says.

It took about six weeks from the time McGrath learned she was a perfect match to the procedure, in which doctors inserted needles into her hips to extract bone marrow.

“It hurt, but it wasn’t too bad,” McGrath says. “For some people, it’s really painful, but it wasn’t for me.”

McGrath, a communications major, returned to her job as video editor at Mullen Advertising in Boston a few days after the procedure. Her bone marrow will rejuvenate within four to six weeks. For now, she plans to remain on the bone marrow registry and educate others about the importance of bone marrow donations. She plans to encourage schools, businesses and organizations to sponsor blood drives for testing.

“I don’t have the money to donate to causes,” she says. “The only thing I can really do is volunteer and give time instead of money. (Donating marrow) is a huge deal to the recipient and could potentially save her life. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m making a difference, but this is one thing where I know I helped this one person.”

– Sarah Costello ’11