August 15, 2003

The greatest gift, part one of three

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Left to right: In May, Ervin, Jessica, Jillian and Myles Pasley gained national attention when they told their story to the Today Show.

The greatest gift, part one of three

Beginning in September, Employee Celebration Month at Vanderbilt will place a special emphasis upon organ, tissue and bone marrow donation awareness.

In the next three issues of the Reporter, we will feature three Vanderbilt Medical Center employees whose lives have been touched by organ donation.

In this issue, Public Affairs Information Officer Jessica Pasley tells about learning the name of the living donor who gave his bone marrow to her daughter, Jillian, and what his gift meant to the entire family.

His name is Joe. According to a baby-naming Website, it is Hebrew for “God will increase” or Latin for “multiplies.”

As a coworker and I were perusing the meanings on the site, I immediately assumed the worst. As the mother of two pediatric cancer patients, the translation was a little nerve-wracking and eerie. All I could think about were cancer cells.

Since 1999 my family has lived in the cancer world. My twin daughters, Jade and Jillian, were both diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). In 2000, Jade died after complications from a bone marrow transplant. In 2002, Jillian received the same transplant. She recently celebrated her one-year transplant birthday.

The girls had two different donors. Jade’s was a young female, also a twin. She lives in Virginia. We have not made contact with her yet, but are looking forward to it. Joe, who we will meet in November, has communicated with us via cards and sweet gifts for Jillian.

Somewhere in my four years of caring for the girls, my ability to curb the negative thoughts kind of faded.

But thankfully, I have friends like my coworker who quickly bring me back to the world of good and plenty.

“What are you thinking? How can that be negative?” she asked.

“You are taking one life and making two. From one life are coming two,” she said. “How is that not a perfect example of ‘God will increase’? God will increase hope, life and grace.”

And that was that — right on the mark.

It was an incredible testimony of exactly what Joe had done for us.

It is difficult to describe the gift he has given us through the donation of his bone marrow to our daughter.

Although our first experience with transplant did not turn out the way we wanted, we felt that Jillian deserved the same opportunity as her sister — a chance to beat the leukemia that was overtaking her little body and the hope that someone else’s marrow would become hers so she would live.

For more than two years, Jillian stayed in remission from her cancer. It was a complete surprise to us when she relapsed in 2002. We were quick to set up bone marrow drives to have the Nashville community tested as potential donors. Although the probability that none of the folks tested during these local drives or those held throughout the United States would aid her, it was the best way we knew how to get the word out that minority donors are needed on the National Marrow Donor Program’s registry.

During our four-year journey with cancer, the one thing we learned was that minorities are just that — the smaller part of the registry. Not only have we become committed donors on the registry, we have worked hard to increase the numbers of minorities willing to donate if asked.

I recently discovered that Joe found his way to the registry in a similar fashion. After hearing the plea from parents in his community, he wanted to help. Although those parents were hoping to find a suitable donor for their son — who later succumbed to his disease — they were successful in increasing the roster by thousands.

Thankfully, Joe was among the folks who took note and said yes to life.

Because of the gift from a complete stranger, Jillian and hundreds of others like her are alive. They were given precious time with family and friends. They are experiencing life in ways that are unknown to those of us who may have never been close to death. Life just takes on a different meaning for them.

In two weeks, Jillian will join other students in the pre-first class at Ensworth School. This is only possible because of Joe — the man Jillian calls her miracle.

At the tender age of five, she understands how valuable her donor is. It’s amazing how the struggles in life can enlighten a person.

Thanks Joe for multiplying our happiness; for Jillian’s explosive and often contagious giggles; for her wit; her steadfast determination; for the increased time she and her brother have together — spending hours being silly, playing, sometimes arguing and sleeping side-by-side.

Thank you for allowing us to experience Jillian and all that she is. Quite simply, thanks for giving her back to us.

For information on becoming a bone marrow donor, visit

For information on becoming an organ or tissue donor, visit