MacDill Airman donates bone marrow to teen recovering from Leukemia

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class David D. McLoney
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, approximately 18,000 people could benefit from a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant.

For Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Villaronga, an equal opportunity counselor from the 6th Air Refueling Wing Equal Opportunity Office, lowering that number by one has been an accomplishment on its own.

In early January 2021, Villaronga left her family and friends at MacDill AFB to travel to Washington D.C. during the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic and political unrest, to donate bone marrow through the Salute to Life program operated by the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Center.

While recovering she continued her work, providing other branches with their required annual EO training virtually via Microsoft Teams. She conducted five training sessions for more than 100 Joint Communications Support Element personnel.
“I realized just how crucial bone marrow was for patients with various blood cancers and other life-threatening diseases,” said Villaronga. “They depend on a bone marrow or cord blood transplant to save their life.”

Villaronga wasn’t always able to sign up for bone marrow donations. Being born in Rota, Spain, she was denied the ability because the Food and Drug Administration banned blood donation from people who had previously lived in Europe between 1980 and 1996 due to mad cow disease. That all changed on July 28, 2020, when the FDA lifted the ban, and even though Villaronga had registered almost 5 years prior, she was finally allowed to donate.

The five-year persistence turned into an Air Force member being able to help a young teenager in the United States recover from Leukemia.

In order for Villaronga to qualify for the registration to donate her bone marrow, she was required to send in a swab with cells from the inside of her cheek. That swab was then tested for human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers, and if all requirements are met, the donor will eventually be matched with a patient that requires a close match to the HLA type, which is related to racial and ethnic groups.

“There is less than 10 percent representation of Latinos and Hispanics in the registry, and Hispanic patients only have a 46 percent probability of finding a match,” said Villaronga.

The dedication Villaronga shows with her bone marrow donation also reflected in her workplace, as a member of the EO team. Villaronga has also previously worked with the MacDill Diversity and Inclusion team to procure two lactation pods for the 6th Air Refueling Wing.

“TSgt Villaronga is an extremely hardworking NCO,” said Master Sgt. Jessyca Boyd, Villaronga’s supervisor and the 6th ARW EO superintendent. “She tackles all tasks with care and grace! She’s meticulous and an asset to the Equal Opportunity career field, MacDill Air Force Base and the community.”

Due to her acts of kindness and work ethic, Villaronga was nominated to receive the MacDill AFB First Sergeants Council ‘Diamond Sharp Award’ for displaying the embodiment of the Air Force’s core values.

“I’m sure our team members would agree that we are happy to have Tech Sgt. Villaronga on-board the EO team!” said Boyd.

For more information regarding donating bone marrow, visit: