After 34 years serving with the Military Police

After 34 years serving with the Military Police

Delivery man gives cancer patients a second chance

“I took up organ procurement. I fly around and pick up bone marrow and stem cells for the Alberta Cancer Board,” said Nielsen.

By Phil McLachlan

From cold childhood winters in Fernie, to the Cold War, Oscar Nielsen continues to travel for a cause, even after his retirment from the military.

Upon graduation from high school in Fernie, Nielsen decided he didn’t want to work in the coal mines and set out to receive an education in law enforcement at Lethbridge College. Graduating from this program in 1977, Nielsen joined the Military Police. He spent 34 years of his life in this service.

He retired as a Company Sergeant Major with the Military Police, receiving many medals, including a Peacekeeping Medal, a NATO medal, Cyprus, Syria as well as a Long Service and Good Conduct medal for 34 years in the forces. He also received coins of honour from different commanders and organizations with whom he has worked during his career, with such as the Singapore Army.

“I originally joined the Military Police and thought I’d do four years, like most people do,” said Nielsen.

Stationed in Kamloops, Nielsen’s Sergeant came to him and with a week’s notice, proposed a transfer to Germany. Eagerly accepting, Nielsen took off, and ended up spending four years there, working with NATO during the Cold War.

After 20 years in the military, Nielsen and his wife, Diane, agreed that they would follow her career as a nurse.

Staying in the Calgary area for a while, Oscar went back to school and took up the task of starting his own contracting business. A few years later, the army called him back.

The most significant operation in which he was involved with over the course of his career was, in his opinion, when he served with the Special Investigation Unit (SIU). A case called Op-Helm, involved clearing all the security breaches in the Canadian Armed Forces. At the end of the Cold War, finding out who was and who wasn’t a threat, was their task.

Assigned to the infantry after those four years, Nielsen shifted to a position as a paratrooper. Transferring to the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), he brought back the infantry from Germany to Winnipeg. From Winnipeg, he spent seven months in Cyprus, and then back to Winnipeg. This also took him over to Kamloops, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa.

By this time Nielsen was 42, touring with the reserve/full time service throughout the United States.

Five years ago, his wife Diane, being in the medical service, found a connection in the Tom Baker Cancer Board, which offered Nielsen a job if and when he retired from the military. For the past five years since he retired, Nielsen has been transporting precious cargo from country to country.

“I took up organ procurement. I fly around and pick up bone marrow and stem cells for the Alberta Cancer Board,” said Nielsen.

This current job as a Bone Marrow Transplant Courier (BMT) has taken him all over France, Germany, and Greece as well as numerous places in the United States. He is one of ten couriers who work out of Calgary.

“It sounds like it’s real romantic, but it’s not,” said Oscar, laughing.

Certification for this job usually comes through medical school or law enforcement, however, Oscar had other qualifications.

For a time, Oscar served in close personal protection (CPP) for a variety of high-ranking officers including three  different generals. This gave him the certification to escort sensitive materials such as stem cells and bone marrow.

Bone marrow is the soft, fatty tissue inside your bones, which contains stem cells. People affected by cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma sometimes need to undergo a procedure to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow.

When bone marrow is requested for a certain person, it sometimes take a global search to find the perfect match. Once they find the match, Nielsen is off.

“You’ve got 96 hours turnaround, that’s all,” he said.

Asked what happens if he goes over the time limit, he replied, “You don’t.”

After 96 hours, the hundreds of millions of cells start to deteriorate.

Flying commercially, Nielsen travels to his destination, picks up the material in a container designed by the US Marine Corp, which keeps the product between one and 10 degrees celsius for the duration of his trip.

“When the time starts ticking off and you’ve got a 24-hour delay, then it starts to narrow it down,” said Nielsen, who just completed his 48th delivery.

Staying overnight, Nielsen picks up the bone marrow the next morning from the hospital, prepares it for transport, and flies back.

A data log inside the case tells him the temperature of his product; if time is tight and temperatures are close to expiry such as nine degrees, he will politely appropriate the ice bucket on the plane to keep the bone marrow the right temperature. In his experience, when people find out what he’s carrying, they are more than willing to help if need be.

Sometimes security can be challenging as he travels, as the case cannot leave his side, even when he goes to the washroom.

Although he is not allowed to discover the outcome of the bone marrow transplant, Nielsen still finds it rewarding.

“You’re giving someone else another chance at life, at least for a while,” he states.