Thomas Ank never sought the spotlight; the Astoria man still isn’t totally comfortable telling his story.

“I try to lay low,”?he said. “I hate this kind of stuff.”

But ever since Ank, 43, donated bone marrow to a complete stranger earlier this month, he’s recognized the importance of spreading the word.

“I’m looking at this as my second donation,” Ank said of granting interviews.

Ank’s first donation – the bone marrow – began as a lark.

He works in information technology at the University of Portland, where late last year he was approached by some female nursing students who were trying to sign people up for the Be the Match registry.

Be the Match connects over 10 million potential donors with people suffering from life-threatening blood cancers in need of bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplants.

There were several male engineering students nearby, and Ank figured he would “try and shame these kids into joining,”?he said. “I just signed up.”

As time passed, Ank didn’t think much about the registry. Until February when he heard back from Be the Match.

“I got this email telling me I?had a very rare bone marrow type,”?Ank said, “and I thought it was spam.”?

But Be the Match representatives persisted, and Ank realized that this wasn’t a joke. In late March, Ank drove to?Portland for a series of tests.

Ank arrived at the lab around 4 p.m., and the woman at the front desk told him that he’d probably have to come back the following day. But after the technician made a quick phone call, Ank was told to enter the lab for his tests immediately.

It turned out that Ank’s bone marrow was indeed very rare.

“They actually told me not to let you leave,” the technician told Ank.

Not long after returning to Astoria, there was news: they had found a match for Ank.

In the span of four months, Ank had gone from signing his name on a list to being asked to donate bone marrow to a total stranger.

“This whole thing has been rather surreal,” Ank said.

Ank found out he would be donating bone marrow to a 48-year-old man with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. After learning of his match, Ank’s donation went from abstract to overwhelmingly real.

“Who knows how long he was on the registry – he’s got a rare type of bone marrow,”?Ank said. “The part that stuck with me was I really represented hope for that guy.”

As the donation date drew nearer, Ank took Be the Match’s advice and tried to stay as healthy as possible, though his caution may have bordered on paranoia.

“I’d think, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t wash that salad!’” Ank said.

Ank managed to avoid any sickness, and his donation day arrived without incident.

By then, there was no turning back. And did Ank have any doubts or second thoughts??

“Honestly, for me it wasn’t an option,”?he said. “It’s a week out of my life. I gave up a week and he got five, 20 years.”?

The donation recipient “has an 80 percent or better chance of being alive,”?according to Ank.

The bone marrow donation process itself, which includes around five days of shots before the six-hour donation, was not painful or difficult – something Ank stressed several times.

“It’s very similar to giving plasma,”?he said. “People think it means drilling into your spine ... It was a low-grade hangover for about a week-and-a-half.”?

Ank said that he has two primary goals:?to let people know that donating bone marrow, “doesn’t knock you out, it doesn’t hurt,” and “to get 1,000 people to sign up.”?

Matching bone marrow types is far more complex than matching something like blood types – finding a marrow match is often incredibly hard.

On average, one in every 540 members of the Be the Match registry will ultimately donate bone marrow to a patient.

Ank figures that if he can reach his 1,000 person goal, he could help save at least two lives.

“It’s strictly a numbers game,”?he said. “But by being on the registry, you’ve given hope to somebody who needs hope. Your goal is just to follow through.”?

Ank volunteered Sunday at the Be the Match Walk and Run in Portland, where he and other like-minded volunteers got the word out and added more names to the registry.

Word of Ank’s bone marrow donation spread at University of Portland, and reached John Furey, the university’s director of media relations.

“I?wasn’t surprised because ... from a work standpoint, he’s a very friendly, personable employee,”?Furey said. “We’re proud to have someone like that working for us.”?

People can help Tom Ank reach his goal of 1,000 new names on the Be the Match registry by visiting

Ank hopes his donation will encourage others.

“You don’t know what’s inside of you until you find out,”?Ank said.


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