Public Safety Officer’s Bone Marrow Donation May Help Save a Child’s Life

Last May, Columbia public safety officer Jardiel Anthony Tavarez began getting frantic calls and letters from the New York Blood Center and National Marrow Donor Program. Tavarez had participated in a bone marrow registration drive in 2003 when he was an undergraduate at John Jay College but hadn't thought about it since.

The blood center and donor program were seeking a possible match for a 3-year-old boy with leukemia and contacted Tavarez. According to the blood center, each day about 3,000 patients worldwide with leukemia or other blood diseases are searching for a life-saving bone marrow match. "He had an extremely small chance of finding a match," said Tavarez. "I knew I had to do it."

In his work life, the 28-year-old Tavarez handles many different duties in the Department of Public Safety including securing the entry to Butler Library and patrolling the University's upper campus. Tavarez is also getting a post-baccalaureate certificate in business through the School of Continuing Education and performs in theater productions on and off campus. This month he will appear in the King's Crown Shakespeare Troupe's production of Macbeth in the role of Siward and two other small parts.

Tavarez dropped everything when, three weeks after taking the blood test, he received confirmation that he was a perfect match. He quickly began preparing for major surgery, which calls for the extraction of marrow from the bone at the base of his spine. The recipient likewise had to prepare to receive Tavarez's marrow by undergoing chemotherapy to completely destroy his own bone marrow. "I was informed that during this time, the patient has no immune system. If anything happened to me, or I decided not to do it, he would die relatively soon unless another match could be found," Tavarez said. "It was a heavy responsibility."

The surgery, which was a first for Tavarez, was performed on July 22. Immediately after the operation, the bone marrow was sent via private courier to the patient. "They literally run out and jump on a plane and carry the box of marrow on them the whole way," he said.  "The recipient received the marrow within 24 hours." 

Tavarez describes his recovery as "hard on the body, good for the soul." He spent about a month overcoming insomnia, extreme fatigue and slight anemia before returning to work in August. He thanks Columbia, the blood center and Mount Sinai Hospital for the support and assistance he has received throughout the process.

James F. McShane, vice president for public safety, is among the many who support Tavarez's decision. "I was very impressed when I learned of Officer Tavarez's courageous act," he said. "His generous donation truly embodies public safety's commitment to service, and I am proud of what he has done."

Tavarez says the experience has given him a new outlook on life. "While I was recovering, I had a lot of time to think and reevaluate my life and myself," he said. "I look at life on a grander scale. It's a blessing to be in good health, and I want to stay connected with this child."

Donor rules prohibit Tavarez from meeting the recipient of his bone marrow until a year following the surgery, although he can get updates on his progress and knows the child is responding well so far.

Tavarez urges the Columbia community to take part in the University's many blood drives and to register for bone marrow donation. "It's worth the risk," he said. "You don't always get a chance to save someone's life. It's such a blessing to have had this opportunity."