Few experiences in life rival that of saving someone’s life; it’s the story of a true hero. A person who puts the health and safety of another before his or her own is courageous, especially when helping someone else could put the hero in harm’s way. Bone marrow donors are some of these courageous unsung heroes.
Bone marrow transplant is often called the blood cell factory, because healthy bone marrow creates blood cells that are released in the body. When the bone marrow is not working properly a person can become gravely ill or even die. For instance, a person who has undergone chemotherapy for cancer may have decreased bone marrow and may need someone to donate to get their blood cell count up to a healthy level again. While donating bone marrow is not a risky procedure, there can be complications from the anesthesia, and there may be discomfort afterwards.
To find out if you can donate bone marrow, you can join the national registry. A swab of your cells is taken from the inside of your cheek and then matched to potential patients. If you match someone in need, you will take additional health screenings to ensure you are well enough to be a donor. You will be informed about the process, the risks and side effects, and the recovery process. Depending upon the health of the patient, the doctor may want you to donate in one of two ways. The peripheral blood stem cell method, or PBSC method, is a non-surgical procedure. The donor is injected with filgrastim, a medication to increase the production of blood forming cells. After several days of injections, blood is filtered out of one of your arms and into a machine that separates the necessary cells from your blood. Your blood is then returned to you in your other arm.
Bone marrow donation is different. This is truly a surgical procedure, one that is completed in a hospital while you are under anesthesia. A doctor will inject a needle and withdraw the life-saving marrow from the both sides of your pelvic bone, from your back. While there is no pain during the procedure, afterwards you may need a day to a week to resume normal activities; each donor is different. There may be some side effects like soreness or dizziness, but once again, it depends on the donor. The marrow is then transplanted into the patient’s bloodstream. Once it makes its way to the bones, it can start producing new blood cells. Blood cancer bone marrow transplant can benefit those with certain types of cancer, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases where the body does not make adequate blood cells.
Even if you register to be a bone marrow stem cell donor registry, you may never be a match for someone or, based on your unique DNA, you may be the only match for someone in need. Either way, you can help by being available if needed and by volunteering to help at events, if necessary. Financial donations are gladly accepted, too!