Bone marrow donor and Tanzania research - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Sam Janson (left) with the recipient of his bone marrow, Peter Kirk, at the 2022 Be the Match Gala in Minneapolis.

My time as a Maryknoll lay missioner ended in February 2021, but my mission has continued. Since returning to the United States, my appreciation for my time in Tanzania and the opportunity to live and work among priests, brothers, sisters and lay missioners in the Maryknoll family has continued to grow.

I returned to the U.S. to start a master of public health (MPH) program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Today I am just one semester away from finishing my degree.

Just a couple of months after leaving Maryknoll, I was presented with a life-altering opportunity to continue serving others in a unique and exciting way. I received a call from the National Bone Marrow Donor Program (“Be the Match”) informing me that I was a possible match for a 50-year-old man with leukemia in need of a bone marrow transplant. After some tests and other arrangements, the match was confirmed, and I donated my peripheral blood stem cells at a hospital in New Hampshire.

A year later, my recipient, Peter, contacted me, and I began to learn more about his life and his story of surviving cancer. Peter was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at an advanced stage, which led to his admission into the ICU and eventual need for a breathing tube. After surviving double lung pneumonia, he began cancer treatment, which included looking for a bone marrow match.

After receiving the transplant, Peter began the long road of recovery, which led him to run the New York City Marathon just months after finishing treatment. He is now pursuing his goal to run 1,000 half marathons to raise money for cancer research. While I never could have anticipated being asked to donate, my decision to say “yes” to the transplant is easily the best I have ever made, and I consider it an honor to have been able to help someone in this way.

Reflecting on the experience has given me a greater understanding of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ, and to consider that my interconnectedness with other people is deeply affirmed by medical sciences.

From left: Sam Janson, Tanzanian entrepreneur Michael Shirima, National Institutes of Health researcher Alex Ishino, and Sam’s mentor, Donaldson Conserve, at George Washington University.

Another exciting opportunity since starting my MPH program has been to participate in multiple public health research projects based in Tanzania. Since October 2022 I have worked on a project related to linking men to HIV care following an HIV-self test.

While HIV treatment services are generally available throughout Tanzania, case identification, particularly among men, is low. This project involves qualitative research with men who have used an HIV self-test to understand the various factors that influence hesitancy around receiving facility-based care and piloting an intervention aimed at addressing these barriers.

In addition to this project, I have had the opportunity to lead my own study based in Tanzania regarding substance-use rehabilitation centers, locally known as “sober houses.” This idea was the result of a collaborative effort with my mentor, Donaldson Conserve, an associate professor at the university’s School of Public Health, and is rooted in our own experiences in the country, where treatment for substance use disorders is very limited.

To carry out this research, I will be spending five weeks in Tanzania this summer, flying there on Aug. 7. I am incredibly excited to travel back to Tanzania and hope to reconnect with some of the other missioners, as well as friends and colleagues who are still living there.

Since leaving Maryknoll, it has been a joy to explore the ways my time as a missioner can open doors for me personally and professionally. I have tried to be intentional about integrating what I learned in Tanzania into my life now and to live a life that is still influenced by the Maryknoll spirit. While my time in mission had its challenges, I remain very grateful to have had the experience and to have worked among people who were deeply committed to living their faith.

Sam Janson
Sam Janson served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Mwanza, Tanzania (Class of 2018). He is studying for his master of public health degree at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.