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Scott Mitchell donated bone marrow twice trying to save a life: “the waves fan out in all directions.”

Scott Mitchell donated bone marrow twice trying to save a life: “the waves fan out in all directions.”

By Hilary Reeves

Certificate acknowledging Scott's bone marrow donation.
For more information on the National Marrow Donor Program, visit www.bethematch.org.

In June of 1992, Scott Mitchell received a life-changing phone call: just months after joining the national bone marrow registry, his blood was matched to a 35-year-old Texas man who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia three months prior.

“I didn’t know anything about Steve (Doudney) at the time,” said Mitchell, a Seattle native and one-time pharmacy student. “It was kept completely anonymous on both sides. All I knew was that there was someone out there who would probably die without my help.”

A long-time blood donor, Mitchell spent the next three months giving blood. His blood was further typed, a strong match confirmed, and he underwent a bone marrow donation procedure in September of 1992.

“At the time, Steve was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas,” he explained. “Through a combination of medication and radiation, all his existing bone marrow had been eliminated. I was in Seattle. The donation process takes about an hour-and-a-half. A large needle was pushed into the iliac crest of my pelvis, and a tablespoon of marrow was extracted. The process is repeated until there is a quart of marrow extracted.”

Though he received an epidural and said the procedure itself was more uncomfortable than painful, the resulting bruising made for a month of discomfort. Shortly after the extraction, while Mitchell was in the recovery room, an attendant came in to pick up the marrow. He was also carrying a delivery for the donor.

“He handed me greeting cards. They were from Steve, his wife, Nancy, and his mom.”

Mitchell looks through letters, cards and momentos from Doudney's family and friends.
Mitchell looks through letters, cards and mementos from Doudney’s family and friends.

These “get well” cards for Mitchell were a major surprise.

“They wrote that they hoped I would feel better soon.”

Doudney spent 16 months in remission after Mitchell’s donation.

“I could communicate with Steve back-and-forth, but I still had no real idea of who he was. His wife, his mother, his sister, and he all sent cards and letters. We were allowed to meet one year after the transplant. I talked to him on the phone for the first time in September of 1993. We talked a lot after that.”

After Mitchell and Doudney started talking regularly during the fall of 1993, Mitchell began making plans to visit Doudney in Texas, their first time meeting face-to-face.

“In September, things were going well,” said Mitchell. “But by late October-early November, things were no longer going well. The leukemia was back.”

During the early months of 1994, Mitchell was traveling back and forth from Seattle to Denver, preparing to move his family. In February, he underwent a second donation for Doudney. At the time, he was told he was the only person in the country who had ever been called upon to donate twice.

“Again, it was supposedly completely confidential, but of course I knew who it was for,” he said. “Of course I knew. I had been in contact with his doctor.”

March came, and Doudney was again in the ICU, this time with a lung infection.

“My dad and I were driving from Seattle to Denver, moving a load,” said Mitchell. “We were having lunch at a diner in the middle of Idaho, and Nancy called. Steve had died.”

Steve Doudney died on March 21, 1994. That fall, Mitchell traveled to Dallas to meet his widow, Nancy. He was met with open arms.

“She had organized a surprise party for me at her home – there were 20 or so people there, Steve’s family and friends. The next morning, I went with her to church, and more of Steve’s friends were there. It was a very emotional time and awe inspiring to find out how many people were touched by Steve.”

Mitchell said that while he was uncomfortable being treated as a hero, only then did he understand the impact his donation to Doudney had on his family and friends.

“People were thanking me for giving Steve another year of life, so that he could say goodbye. I could have gone through everything and never known others were impacted by this donation; instead I got to attend his oldest son’s wedding.”

From telecom to auditing

Mitchell grew up in North Seattle, and was accepted to the University of Washington School of Pharmacy as a freshman. Two years later, he withdrew.

“It probably wasn’t the smartest move, considering I had already made it through all the organic chemistry by then,” he laughed. “I was interested in science and medicine in high school. I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, and pharmacy was a similar career path. But once I was on it, I started really thinking about how much I didn’t want to count pills and type labels all day. I also had to work while I was in school, so I was just burned out.”

Mitchell had been working 20 hours per week as a telephone operator at U.S. West, joining the company full-time after leaving school. He also taught snow skiing at Stevens Pass on the weekends, where he met his wife, Terri.

Mitchell was soon promoted to telephone technician, and decided to go back to school. He took classes after work at the University of Puget Sound campus in downtown Seattle. After earning an undergraduate degree in business, he attended Seattle University and graduated with an MBA. He was 32 and still with U.S West, working in product management.

The company moved Mitchell to Denver in winter 1994. His family, which had grown to include two sons, moved in the spring, after Doudney’s death.

After alerting a colleague, an attorney, about issues within operations that needed to be addressed, Mitchell was tapped to join the internal audit team. While he enjoyed the work, which included two overseas audits, he left U.S. West after 26 years, moving to Spokane in 2000 to join a telecom manufacturer. The company had planned to go public in August of 2000, but pulled the filing later that fall.

“For the short time I was there, it was fun,” Mitchell said. “I was hired as a product manager, but ended up doing a lot of business ‘dashboarding.’ I didn’t have the data information I needed to do my job, so I went after the information myself.”

Mitchell left the startup in 2002, and moved to Portland. Sarbanes-Oxley created high demand for internal auditors, and Mitchell worked for Hollywood Entertainment, Cascade, Moss Adams, and Greenbrier, before settling down back in Seattle and joining Saltchuk Resources in 2013. He was promoted to Senior Director of Audit Services on Oct 1.

“It makes me proud to work for such an ethical company,” he said. “If my experience with Steve taught me anything it’s that giving back matters. When you make the decision to give, you have no idea who or how many might be positively affected.”

Mitchell’s sons, now 30 and 27, live in Denver and Portland, respectively. His eldest is a brewer at New Belgium, and taught Mitchell how to successfully home-brew.

“We actually thought about going into business together at one point,” he laughed. “Brewing at home takes about five hours, and two to four weeks to ferment. I converted a freezer to provide three taps. My IPA is my favorite. I’m very particular about my IPAs.”

Another passion is music. While living in Portland, Mitchell played trombone in a 22-piece band. He said he knows better than most how important it is to live fully.

“Steve didn’t live, Mitchell concluded, “but I hope that hearing this story encourages more people to join the national bone marrow registry,” he concluded. “It’s as simple as getting blood drawn – a simple as a cheek swab. Again, the decision to give is like throwing a rock in a pond. The waves fan out in all directions. You never know how far your gift, your positivity, your joy will go.”

For more information on the National Marrow Donor Program, visit www.bethematch.org.