Huntsville police officer makes life-saving effort through stem cell donation

single-meta-cal January 8, 2018

With no fanfare and little effort, Karl Kissich went through a simple registration process and “totally forgot about it for four years.”

Then, almost magically, it became a life-changing event. A life-saving event, too, one can hope.

Kissich, a Huntsville Police officer for more than 10 years and father of three, was working a part-time job at Clearview Cancer Institute when he was encouraged to join the “Be The Match” registry program.

Now, he’s asking fellow officers, other HPD staff, City of Huntsville employees and the general public to join the cause.

“Be The Match” is a global program for bone-marrow donation. On Thursday, Jan. 18, Kissich is organizing a registry drive and challenging his fellow officers and other first responders to participate, as well as anyone else interested in helping.

 Behind-the-scenes look

The info:

  • HPD West Precinct, 2110 Clinton Ave.
  • Jan. 18, 1 p.m. – 4p.m. and 9 p.m. until midnight.
  • Donors must be between 18 and 44 years of age, in good health and willing to donate to any patient to whom you might be matched.

The process is quick and painless. As Kissich says, “All you have to do is fill out a couple of sheets of paperwork and do cheek swabs.” The information and results will be entered into a database where they might be matched with patients undergoing treatment.

There’s only a remote chance of being contacted. Only one in 40 registry members will be called back for additional testing, according to Be The Match. Only one in 300 will be selected as the best possible donor and only one in 450 will actually donate.

Slim odds – but perhaps not from a patient’s perspective.

Kissich matched with 56-year-old leukemia patient

Kissich’s information languished in the database for so long, it took him aback when he was contacted last spring.

He was a possible stem cell match for a 56-year-old woman stricken with leukemia. He underwent a blood test that revealed he was indeed a perfect match.

Be The Match flew him to a medical facility in Washington, D.C., (the group handled all the travel expenses), where he underwent a six-hour donation procedure that “was a little uncomfortable, but definitely worth it.”

Kissich, a Phoenix native who found himself in Alabama courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps years ago and has become entrenched here, does not know the identity of the leukemia patient; he does know his initial sample was sent to a hospital in Spain for evaluation. There must be at least a year of anonymity, after which donors and donees can choose to be connected if both parties agree.

“Really, the whole experience was rewarding for me,” Kissich says. “This felt like a real, pure act.”

“This was out of the blue,” he continues. “I’m no one special, but to get the opportunity to maybe give this lady some life, that’s rewarding.”