Paula Doughty knows very little about the man. He’s is his 50s, and he’s a bigger guy — 6-foot-1, maybe 210 pounds. He’s been diagnosed with acute leukemia.

And because he and she were a perfect match, his diagnosis went from terminal to having an 80 percent chance for survival.

Several years ago, one of Doughty’s family members was battling cancer and survived because of a stem cell transplant. Not long after, she volunteered at a donation drive at Gepettos, a restaurant at Sugarloaf.

Doughty, a social studies teacher and field hockey coach at Skowhegan Area High School, gave a vial of blood and didn’t think much of it until she got an email this summer, saying she was a possible match for a person who needed a stem cell donation.

A few tests later, Doughty found out she was a perfect match for the man in his 50s with acute leukemia. That meant she had to undergo a week-long process in which her stem cells were harvested from her body to be injected into his.

“It’s so rare that you get picked,” Doughty said. “There’s like 9 million people in the registry. It’s like winning the lottery to get picked, because you have to be a perfect match for this person. You’re close enough so you can be brother and sister with this person.”

The first step was in September, with a trip to Boston for a day of tests to ensure her 59-year-old body could handle the loss of so many cells. After Doughty passed the physical, she began the ordeal of getting daily shots in her belly with the intent of making her ill.

“The process is, you go in for six days, and you get Neupogen shots every day,” Doughty said. “Basically, what it does — it’s like when you come down with the flu. Your neck aches. Your back aches. Your hips ache. Your joints ache. In real time, that is the white blood cells coming out of your body to fight off the flu.

“So every day, when I got that shot, that’s exactly how I would feel. I was tired. I had a dull headache all the time. It was basically like having the flu for six days.”

Doughty said she was taken aback the first day with how quickly she felt sick. But she kept coaching the field hockey team during that week as the Indians were on their way to an undefeated season.

The day before Doughty’s cells were harvested, Skowhegan defeated Bangor at home, and Paula and her husband, John, drove to Boston that night.

“I checked in to the Jimmy Fund Center the next morning at 7,” Paula said. “They hooked me up, and from 7 to 5, I donated. They hitch you to a machine. They put a line in both arms. They pump all your blood out of one arm, and it goes through a machine, and they take out all your stem cells. In the course of 10 hours, it goes in and out of your body five times.”

The bag of stem cells was taken away and injected into the man’s body within 12 hours.

“And that person has gone through chemo, so that they have absolutely no immune system left,” Paula said. “They start over, and they’re now me. They have my DNA, they have my blood, and they have my immune system.”

Less than 24 hours after donating her stem cells, Doughty was in Fairfield coaching Skowhegan in a Saturday morning game against Lawrence. Doughty, who has won 420 games in her career and whose teams have won 10 of the past 11 Class A state titles, had no thoughts of missing the game, even though she was sure assistant Tammy Veinotte would have done a fine job.

“Our team is different,” Paula said. “It is an athletic team, and we do practice hard, and we do play field hockey. But there’s a real emotional bond between me, Tammy and our kids. I think I needed them probably more than they needed me. Even if I showed up to that game and I wasn’t worth a damn, it took my mind off it, and I was with my kids.”

John Doughty might have thought about suggesting to Paula that she rest in bed for the weekend, but he knew how that conversation would end.

“She’s going to do whatever she damn well pleases,” John said. “There have been times, over the last 25 years, when she’s been so sick she couldn’t go on the bus. I followed the bus in a car, bringing her so she could lay down and sleep in the back seat. So I knew she was going to coach. Absolutely no question about that.”

Paula now wants to get the word out about how many people die because they never find their match, and how if she can be a donor, anybody can.

“To me, that’s like the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s really an amazing thing.”

Paula admits she was a little scared, and mostly she kept that to herself. Still, she came out fine and recovered fairly quickly.

“Friday at 5 or 6, she was done,” John said. “By Saturday at 5 or 6, she felt pretty good, and by Sunday night, 48 hours later, I could tell she was feeling better.”

Skowhegan student Ethan Johnson, president of the National Honor Society at the school, is helping Doughty get the word out.  Johnson and other students are in contact with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to set up a donation drive in the Skowhegan area.

“Everyone was pretty inspired by Mrs. Doughty’s story, and what she did for someone she didn’t even know,” Johnson said. “She just knew that she needed to save a life. We’re just trying to duplicate that and see what happens when a whole community comes out.”

Johnson said he is hoping the donation drive will be in the early spring and that people who can’t afford the fee to cover DNA testing costs still will be able to donate.

“We’re just going to raise as much money as we possibly can, so we can pay for people to be tested,” Johnson said.

It will be at least another 10 months before Paula can meet the man to whom she gave new hope. She very much wants that meeting to happen.

“If this person survives, in a year, I get to know who they are,” Paula said. “Whether they want to meet me or not, that’s up to them. I would love to meet them, to share the joy.

“When someone in your family, who you love, comes that close to death, and you pull it off, and you beat the odds, there’s just such incredible joy that comes from that. It’s hard to explain it, unless you’ve been through it yourself.”

“By the time they’ve told you you’re terminal, they’ve pretty much tried everything,” John said. “I have no idea how long they’d been going through it, but I bet it’d been over a year. It’d probably been two or three years. I don’t know if it’s a miracle, but it’s damn close.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243
[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.