Before he was an AEP Ohio lineworker, Cody Grilliot was a linebacker on the Ohio University football team. During his time there, one of his coaches – who had leukemia – gave a speech about the lifesaving potential of joining the Gift of Life bone marrow and stem cell registry. So Grilliot filled out some paperwork, got his mouth swabbed and, after graduating in 2017, largely forgot about it.
A few years later, that lifesaving potential was realized.
Earlier this year Grilliot received a message from Gift of Life about a match with an 11-year-old boy. Only 30 percent of blood cancer patients find a matching donor from family members, so the other 70 percent rely on donors from the registry. The complexity of DNA and tissue typing sometimes makes identifying a suitable donor like finding a needle in a haystack, so Grilliot’s participation was critical.
Grilliot was excited by the promise of helping and felt duty-bound because of his youth and good health. Nevertheless, he was anxious about going through with it.
“At first I was a little leery because I was unfamiliar with the whole process,” Grilliot says. “I was also in the process of buying a house, I was now working at AEP Ohio, and this was all in the middle of COVID. I was very stressed out just getting the paperwork signed.”
Pandemic concerns threatened to block the entire procedure because travel was restricted and Grilliot wasn’t sure he could quarantine for the required 14 days. Fortunately, the James Cancer Hospital Solove Research Institute in Columbus stepped in to help, allowing Grilliot to undergo the operation close to home.
While 80 percent of volunteers donate blood stem cells – a simpler and less intrusive option – Grilliot is among the 20 percent who give blood marrow. These donations typically go to pediatric patients and quite literally might save the recipient’s life. According to Grilliot, the two-hour surgery was relatively quick and painless (he was under anesthesia during the operation) though he couldn’t walk for a couple days after and was sore for about a week.
Grilliot has been with AEP Ohio less than a year and already his teammates are getting a glimpse of his strong character.
“Cody is top-notch. He’s an all-around good dude,” says Josh Hultgren, distribution system supervisor in Columbus Northeast and Grilliot’s manager. “He’s a stand-up type of guy and the crew really likes him. He cares about people; he cares about his job; he cares about doing the right thing.”
Privacy laws around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevent Grilliot from meeting the boy for at least one year, but he’s already looking forward to it and wants other people to consider a similar sacrifice.
“If you’re healthy and of the right age, I highly encourage people to think about it,” Grilliot says. “These kids don’t have a family match. They really rely on these donations. It might be a little uncomfortable but the fact of the matter is you really are saving lives. It’s the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. By far.”
You Can Donate
Approximately 175,000 people get diagnosed with the three main types of blood cancer each year: Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma. There are many ways to join in the fight but one way is by following Grilliot’s example of getting swabbed and joining the donor registry. More information is at giftoflife.org/register.
Published June 11, 2020