In April 2016, Fullerton Police Officer Hazel Rios subjected herself to bone marrow extraction surgery, a procedure that involved four incisions in her lower back, an overnight stay in the hospital and a painful period of recovery.
She would do it again in a heartbeat.
Rios, 35, a law enforcement veteran of 13 years, had signed on in 2011 with Be the Match, an organization that matches bone marrow donors and recipients.
She’d pretty much forgotten about it.
Then in December 2015, Rios, an investigator in the Traffic Bureau, was contacted and told her bone marrow was a match for a girl in South America who was in need of a transplant.
“I thought of all the people in the United States of America, I am her match,” Rios said. “How do you say no if you have that little bit of a chance to help someone?”
Due to privacy issues in other countries, Rios was told nothing else about the recipient.
But without hesitation, Rios, an avid runner and CrossFitter, moved forward with the process, answering a litany of questions and undergoing a physical.
The bone marrow extraction was scheduled for April 2016.
The recipient needed as much bone marrow as an adult, Rios said, so incisions had to be made on each side of her lower back. Almost 200 holes were poked in her bones to extract the marrow.
Rios’ surgery was on a Monday and by Wednesday, the bone marrow was transplanted.
In the days following the surgery, Rios was lethargic, anemic and experienced lower back pain, an inconvenience she would go through again without hesitation.
“It was so worth it for that family. … if that was my child – and I have three kids – I would hope that someone would be willing to do that for my family.”
At the FPD annual awards ceremony held recently, Police Chief Dan Hughes awarded Rios a Chief’s Certificate of Commendation for the benevolent act, a recognition given to an officer for a single humanitarian effort that goes above and beyond the job description.
Kaylie Lopez, 21, a senior police cadet with FPD, was so inspired by Rios’ willingness to potentially save a life she registered with Be the Match within two weeks after Rios returned to work.
Even though registrants on Be the Match can contribute in a variety of ways that don’t involve donating bone marrow, Lopez would be willing to make that sacrifice.
“If I could help someone else, why not?” Lopez said. “I know that it is painful, but it is something that I would feel good about doing if it helped someone else.”
Confidentiality laws generally prevent identities of donors and recipients to be shared with each other and to this day, Rios doesn’t know the status of the girl who received her bone marrow or, frankly, even if she survived.
“If I do save her life, that is a great thing,” Rios said. “If I don’t, maybe I extended her life or made her life a little bit healthier. Either way I was going to do it, because it is the right thing to do. In my heart, it is the right thing to do.”
Rios agreed to be interviewed by Behind the Badge because she wants to spread the word about Be the Match and encourage readers to register with the organization.
Those who register don’t have to commit to donating bone marrow.
They can simply donate blood, volunteer at an event, purchase items that benefit the organization or make a financial donation, Rios said.
“Something so simple can literally save somebody’s life,” she said. “It is something we take for granted … just life in general, and how something simple like this can make a big difference.”
For more information about being a bone marrow donor and Be the Match, go to bethematch.org