You Can Save a Life — Consider Joining the Bone Marrow Donor Registry
Today, I’d like to talk about a topic that has hit me close to home; my older brother was recently diagnosed with leukemia, and he needs a bone marrow donor. During the process of supporting my brother and his wife and kids, I’ve learned a lot about the bone marrow donation process, and how easy it is to be the life changing cure for someone living with a terrible disease. I think that if more people knew about what it takes to be a bone marrow donor, that no one would ever have to wait for a match and pray for a lifesaver, like we are doing right now.
How to Sign Up for the Be The Match Bone Marrow Donor Registry
Signing up is easy, painless, and free for most people. Bone marrow donation doesn’t depend on blood type; it goes by your HLA (human leukocyte antigens) type, which is determined with a cheek swab. When you sign up to be a donor at www.bethematch.org, you will fill out your contact information, demographic, and some info about your medical history and ancestry. (You are most likely to match with folks with a similar ethnicity, and some medical conditions make you ineligible to donate.)
Once you’ve signed up, Be The Match will mail a cheek swab kit to your home for free. Simply follow the instructions in the kit, and stick it back into the mail using the provided postage-paid envelope. That’s it! They’ll process your kit to determine your HLA type, and add you into the registry as a potential donor.
Why Sign Up to Be a Bone Marrow Donor?
A healthy blood system is always making new blood-forming cells. This happens in your bone marrow. For folks with cancers or disorders of the blood, such as leukemia or sickle-cell anemia, they may be producing diseased blood cells, or not enough of the type they need. For many, the only way to cure this disease is with a bone marrow donation. The stem cells in your bone marrow is collected and given to the patient, where it starts to help them form healthy blood cells on their own.
According to Be The Match, if you sign up to be a donor, “You may never be identified as a match for someone, or you might be one of a number of potential matches. But you may also be the only one on the registry who can save a patient’s life. The most important thing you can do is stay committed and respond if contacted.”
What Can a Donor Expect?
There is more than one way to be a donor for someone. A peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation involves a blood draw similar to the platelet donation process, while a bone marrow donation involves a procedure where they extract marrow from your hip bone. It is also possible to donate umbilical cord blood if you are pregnant–rather than simply throwing the umbilical cord away once it is detached, it is sent to be donated. You can check the above links to learn more about what to expect with each type of donation.
The question on everyone’s mind is: does donation hurt? This is the information provided by Be The Match:
“Does it hurt? Probably less than you think. While TV shows and movies have wildly exaggerated bone marrow donation as something scary, the reality is much less dramatic. Donors are given anesthesia so they feel no pain during collection. Discomfort during recovery varies from person to person. Side effects may include back pain, fatigue, headache or bruising for a few days or weeks. PBSC donors may experience headaches or body aches several days before collection, but these disappear shortly after donation. Most donors feel completely recovered within a few weeks. It’s a small price to pay for the chance to save a life.”
You don’t normally get the chance to save someone’s life and offer hope to families whose loved ones are sick, but by joining the Be The Match registry, you actually can. I’ve joined in support of my brother, and I’ll be hearing back any day about whether I’ll get the opportunity to donate to him. If we’re not a match, it’s my hope that I’ll match with someone else, and can help someone who is going through exactly what we’re going through right now. If I could take this away from my brother, I would, and bone marrow donation might actually give me that chance. Please consider joining the registry on behalf of families waiting for a lifesaver, and help get the word out to others about this incredible opportunity by sharing this post.