Montana man donates bone marrow to complete stranger

Posted at 10:00 AM, Feb 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 12:00:56-05

HELENA – This winter, a Helena man gave a life-altering gift to someone he’s never met and may never meet.

Ben Terhune, 22, said he honestly didn’t give it much thought when he signed up as a bone marrow donor back in high school.

ExplorationWorks was holding their “Kids Kicking Cancer Camp” at the time and a representative with Be The Match, an international marrow donor program, was brought in to host a donor drive.

“I was just a teenager at the time,” said Terhune, “I just signed up because it was here [at ExplorationWorks]. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I completely forgot about it,” said Terhune.

Terhune said he was a bit surprised to hear he’d been matched for a peripheral blood stem cells donation years later.

“It was surreal getting a call saying that the spit I put in an envelope years earlier might help save someone’s life. That’s just the strangest feeling,” joked Terhune.

A peripheral blood stem cell transplant is a form of bone marrow transplant that is used in a number of disease treatment such as leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma.

In order to donate Terhune had to receive daily shots of filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in his bloodstream.

Bone Marrow Donor
Ben Terhune, 22, said he honestly didn’t give it much thought when he signed up as a bone marrow donor back in high school. (MTN News photo)

“It was two shots in the stomach every day which was no problem,“ explained Terhune. “There is a little bit of a body load to it. There’s achiness in the bones, fatigue and there can be a fever but it was pretty minor.”

Be The Match covered all the expenses and even coordinated with a nurse in Billings to provide the daily shots while Terhune was there coaching Speech and Debate.

After five days of injections, Terhune and his mother Paige traveled to Denver to make the donation.

“You’re put in a chair with a needle in both arms and you just have to sit there for 6 hours,” said Terhune. “There was actually a complication with my first donation and I had to do it again. I was probably in the chair 10 or 11 hours.”

Yet despite the discomfort, Terhune said he’d gladly do it again in a heartbeat.

“I don’t feel like I personally did much but the whole thing– It’s a miracle,” said Terhune, “It’s a miracle for someone and I may not [have] met them but I have changed their life. And more than anything I’m just grateful that I could be a part of that. I could be one cog in this machine that made something this incredible.”

Paige Terhune isn’t surprised her son would be so willing to help another stating that’s just who he is.

“He helps out anyone that needs help in just about any part of his life. So It really wasn’t a surprise,” the proud mother explained. “If he was called on to do something really big like this he would definitely step up and do that.”

Ben Terhune hopes that one day he’ll be able to meet the recipient of his donation but it will be up to them if they want to see him.

For more information about bone marrow transplants and how to join the Be The Match registry visit here.

-John Riley reporting for MTN News