Every year, thousands of people of all ages are in desperate need of bone marrow transplants – it may be their only chance to survive. Some patients with aplastic anemia, leukemia, lymphoma or other cancers are lucky – they have a family member who is genetically matched.
However, about 70% of people aren’t as lucky. None of their relatives are a match. Their lives depend on finding an unrelated donor, like you, who has a compatible tissue type.
BloodCenter of Wisconsin in an affiliate of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), also called Be the Match®. This program has helped find more than 50,000 unrelated bone marrow transplant donors. Over 9 million marrow donors are on the national registry, while BloodCenter of Wisconsin alone has more than 60,000 volunteer donors on the local registry.
It’s still not enough.
10,000 people need a marrow transplant.
Only half receive one.
In particular, many people of color have difficulty finding a compatible donor from the registry – as matches are most often found between people of the same ethnic group. Increasing the diversity of the marrow donor registry is literally a matter of life and death. If more people from more ethnic backgrounds join the registry to donate marrow or PBSC, more people who need a marrow transplant will find a life-saving match.
Many people are initially afraid to join the national marrow donor registry, Be the Match® because they don’t know what the process will require. Once people have a better understanding about the donation procedures, many join the registry and go on to save a life.
There are two ways to donate. Most donations are peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is a non-surgical procedure. The second way of donating is marrow donation, which is a surgical procedure. With either, you will typically go home the same day you donate.
Here’s how you can take your first steps towards donating marrow and helping to save lives. The beginning of the process for both methods is the same:
- Join the bone marrow registry.
- If you match a patient, you will meet with a marrow donor specialist at BloodCenter of Wisconsin who will help you make an informed decision about whether or not you want to donate marrow. If you decide to go ahead and become a donor, the specialist will ask you about your health and schedule more testing to see if you are the best match for the patient.
- If you are the best match, you will receive detailed information about the donation and recovery process, including risks and side effects. If you again agree to donate, you will sign a consent form.
- Next, you will have a physical examination to make sure that donation is safe for both you and the patient. Please note: there is no cost to you or your health insurance if you donate marrow. Be the Match® will cover your exam, meetings and travel costs for donation.
Peripheral blood stem cell donation takes place at a BloodCenter of Wisconsin donation center.
- For the five (5) days before your donation, you will be given injections of a drug called filgrastim. This drug increases the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream.
- The day of the donation, your blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. This is similar to the process of donating platelets, plasma or red blood cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through your other arm. Your donated cells are then given to the patient in need.
- Your blood-forming cells will be back to their normal levels within 4 to 6 weeks.
Marrow donation is a surgical outpatient procedure that takes place at a hospital.
- You will receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the donation.
- Doctors use a needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone. Your marrow replaces itself completely within 4 to 6 weeks. After the procedure, your donated cells are given to the patient in need.
- For an average of two (2) weeks following the procedure, most donors experience sore hips and some must restrict their activities. Most donors have a positive experience donating marrow, and many marrow donors are willing to donate again in the future.
Your gift of marrow is given to the recipient, whose cells have been almost completely destroyed by intensive chemotherapy or disease. Over time, the donated marrow establishes itself and begins producing healthy blood cells, and in many cases, enhances the patient’s quality of life. Personally helping save a life is a feeling few people ever feel. Becoming a marrow donor may give you that opportunity.
Joining the registry is a commitment that BloodCenter encourages you to enter with thoughtful consideration and a clear understanding of what’s involved. If you have questions, please call our Marrow Donor Program at 1-866-702-HOPE (866-702-4673).
You may be able to join the Be the Match® registry if you meet the following guidelines. The list below does not include every situation that could prevent you from donating. If you are identified as a potential match for a patient, you will have a physical exam to ensure it is safe for you to donate and that your donation will benefit the patient.
- Between ages 18 and 60, however the greatest need is for those under 44
- In good health
- A history of diabetes that requires the use of insulin
- Asthma that has required you to use medication including an inhaler in the past five (5) years. If your asthma is exercise induced, you may be eligible to donate.Cancer or have a history of cancer.
- Cured, local skin cancer (basal cell or squamous cell)
- Healed melanoma in situ
- Healed cervical cancer in situ
- Healed breast cancer in situ
- Healed bladder cancer in situ
- Chronic back problems or have had back surgery in the past five (5) years
- Hepatitis (type B or C)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- A history of heart disease or heart problems (requires an evaluation)
- Serious or chronic kidney problems such as polycystic kidney disease or glomerulonephritis
- Serious breathing problems such as emphysema, sleep apnea or cystic fibrosis
- Significant brain injury or have had surgery in the brain tissue
- Serious bleeding problem such as:
- Factor V Leiden
- A blood clot
- Requirement of anticoagulant medications
- Aplastic anemia
- Von Willebrand disease
If you have questions about donor eligibility, call BloodCenter of Wisconsin at 1-866-702-HOPE (866-702-4673). Ask to speak with a marrow and peripheral blood stem cells donor specialist.
It’s tremendously important for as many people as possible, from every ethnic heritage, to be on the national registry for marrow, as well as becoming peripheral blood stem cell donors. Patients are most likely to be a match for someone of their own race or ethnicity.
Today, there simply aren't enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage. The more people from diverse backgrounds who join the bone marrow donor registry, the more patients who are likely to find a life-saving match.
Members of these ethnic heritages are especially needed:
- Black or African American
- Native American or Alaska Native
- Asian, including South Asian
- Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
- Hispanic or Latino
- Multiple race
Only a small percentage of the Be the Match® registry are people of color:
- African Americans – 7.6%
- Asian/Pacific Islander – 7.0%
- Hispanic or Latino – 5.4%
- Native American – 1.1%
- Other – 26%
Take the first step. Visit Join a Registry to find out how you can potentially give the gift of hope and life.