Someone needed her. Deborah Ochetti didn’t know who. But she didn’t hesitate.
Ochetti, a mail carrier with the Burnsville post office for more than 30 years, will be honored Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the National Association of Letter Carriers for her selflessness in donating stem cells to save the life of a woman with leukemia.
Ochetti, 54, of Prior Lake, and a colleague are spending four days sightseeing in the nation’s capital and being feted along with seven other letter carriers who performed heroic acts. The awards will be presented Wednesday.
Her donation was in March 2015, but the story began four years earlier.
After reading about a family’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor in 2011, Ochetti went in for a cheek swab to see if she could be a match. She wasn’t, but she was entered in Be the Match, a national bone marrow registry.
“Periodically I would think, would I ever be called to help someone,” she said Tuesday from Washington.
That call came in 2015, along with copious paperwork, physical exams and blood draws.
“It was about a three-month process from when I got the phone call until donation time,” she remembered. “You do an extensive physical. Then you get to a certain point where you have to decide, bottom line, will you continue forward,” she said. “For me, there was no question.”
All Ochetti knows about the person who received her donation is that she was 42 and was “very, very, very sick,” she said. “I remember there were three ‘verys.’ ”
Doctors determined that the patient could accept a bone marrow donation or a stem cell donation. Ochetti chose the latter, a somewhat easier, less physically invasive procedure.
She had a series of injections to stimulate the release of stem cells from her bone marrow, then a day- and nightlong procedure that took blood from one arm, extracted stem cells and returned the blood to the other arm.
Afterward, Ochetti said she experienced minor muscle aches and some fatigue. But she missed only two days of work.
She never sought any accolades or recognition, but, “If one person can hear my story and possibly save another life, well, job well done.”
Ochetti said she loves her job and the daily contact with customers on her route. She’s worked in Burnsville for her whole career.