Originally posted on our old website in August 2010
By Joanne Kelley
I found a FedEx box waiting on my doorstep when I returned home from my summer vacation last month. In it: a single test tube with two cotton swabs. My younger brother Tom had just been diagnosed with a rare condition that required an urgent bone marrow transplant. His doctors told him that a sibling match would give him his best chance for survival. My two other brothers and I, spread out across the country, sent back our tissue samples and waited.
Tom towered over me by the time we were teenagers, but I could only picture him now as my little brother. I pulled out old photos of us as kids to show my own children while we waited for news.
A week later my brother got the call. “Well, your brothers aren’t a match, but we think your sister is.” I boarded a flight to New York City for more tests at Sloan-Kettering hospital.
Two weeks would pass before I returned to Manhattan so that doctors could remove some of my bone marrow cells and transfer them to Tom. He, meanwhile, checked into the hospital and passed the time in relative isolation to prepare for the transplant through chemotherapy.
I can’t say I knew what to expect once my part of the procedure was over and the anesthesia began to wear off. I got in a wheelchair and put on a face mask, gloves and special clothing so I could visit my brother in his hospital room.
My brother published this picture of us on his blog about his “summer odyssey at Sloan-Kettering." The title of his update on transplant day was simply, “Wow.” The caption on this photo: “Moment of a lifetime.”
As tears filled his eyes, my brother pointed to a bag of fluid hanging from his IV “tree”. It was a sight I won’t forget — my bone marrow cells slowing moving drop by drop, through a tube and into him.
He thanked me. And there was really only one way to respond – with gratitude, for being able to help out and give our family hope. Back at you brother. Thank you.
I’m grateful to be able to work with people who commit themselves every day to making a difference in the lives of others. Not only the funders, but the many nonprofits whose work they support. And the many people who donate to causes every day.
Philanthropy strikes me as intensely personal and tough to pin down with a simple definition. I’m hoping we can start telling more personal stories to help express the meaning of the word, which can be broadly defined as people demonstrating compassion for others.
I stumbled across a video recently on the website of our colleagues at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. It summed up what I hear so often from those who make a donation in hopes of making a difference in a community or a life. These are the sound bites that resonated with me: “The more you give, the more you get,” “People don’t know the joy,” and “I’m such a different person than I was.”
We gathered up a handful of stories about the reach and impact of Colorado philanthropy in a report and a short documentary this year. But in this age of social media, we know we can do far more to spread the word and inspire others to come together and make a difference.
Do you have a story to share? We’d like to hear from you.
Joanne Kelley is the CEO of Philanthropy Colorado. Her brother is alive and well 11 years later and they'll be celebrating the bone marrow transplant anniversary tonight on a videocall between New York and Colorado.