Marrow Donors Can Be Lifesavers
Each year, thousands of people develop diseases, such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma that are treatable with bone marrow or blood stem cell transplants. Unfortunately, many of these people do not receive the potentially life-saving treatment because of a lack of donors.
November is National Marrow Donor Awareness month. The Health Alliance encourages you to take the time to learn why becoming a donor is so important and rewarding.
The Jewish Hospital offers the only adult blood and marrow transplant program in the Tristate area. More than 590 stem cell transplants have been performed since the program began in 1989.
So, what is bone marrow? Bone marrow is the spongy tissue that is found in the center of bones. Its main function is to produce the blood cells that circulate in your body. These blood cells develop from immature cells called stem cells that mostly live in the marrow but also circulate in the peripheral blood in small numbers. As a donor, either your bone marrow or peripheral blood can be used for the purpose of giving another person healthy stem cells that grow into blood cells.
You can sign up to be a volunteer donor if you are between the ages of 18 and 60 years old, and you are in good health. Locally, you can contact one of the 100 National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) centers throughout the U.S. If you are not in the Tristate area, contact the NMDP via their web site.
When you sign up to be a donor, you will be given a simple blood test to determine your tissue type, which will be entered into the National Registry of unrelated potential donors. Once listed on the registry, your tissue type will be compared to the tissue types of thousands of patients around the world who need transplants. If you are a potential match for someone, you will be asked to give another blood sample, undergo a physical examination and then decide whether or not you wish to donate. To be tested for a specific friend or family member, you will need to undergo private testing (the transplant physician can advise you about this).
The marrow collection process is a surgical procedure lasting one to two hours while you are under regional or general anesthesia. Part of your marrow is removed from the back of your pelvic bone using needles and syringes. You should recover quickly, with minor aches and pains lasting for several days up to a few weeks. Your marrow naturally replenishes itself within four to six weeks.
For a peripheral blood stem cell donation, you will receive five to six days of injections of a medicine called Filgrastim that increases the number of stem cells in your body. Then your blood will be removed in a procedure called apheresis, which withdraws your blood through a needle in the arm and runs it through a machine that separates out the stem cells. The remaining blood, minus the stem cells, is returned to you through a sterile needle in your other arm. Apheresis donors commonly experience symptoms like bone and muscle pain, headache and fatigue for just a few days.
Donating marrow or stem cells is an unselfish act that may be a literal lifesaver for someone who is critically ill. Your help is needed. Contact the NMDP today.
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