In an October post on Chuck Pagano, I touched on the importance of blood donation in helping with the treatment of cancer. Want to know a secret? There's something else you can do to help those fighting cancer and other diseases. You can register to be a bone marrow donor and, when you are found to be a match, donate your marrow or stem cells.
Bone marrow registry helps people who need bone marrow or stem cell transplants (BMT/SCT). Multiple myeloma and recurrent acute leukemia patients most commonly need such transplants. However, as I mentioned in another October post, BMT/SCT may be used for other illnesses, such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).
It is easy to become a stem cell donor. The most common way is to sign up with the National Marrow Donor Program, also known as Be the Match. Anyone ages 18-60 can join the registry, and those ages 18-44 are especially needed.
There are some medical restrictions for joining. For example, those with conditions that put the donor at risk (such as autoimmune diseases) or put the recipient at risk (such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or a chemical dependency) may not join. The entire list of guidelines can be found on the Be the Match website with explanations as to why certain conditions would restrict you and for how long.
To join the registry, you simply sign up online or at an event. If you register online, you will be sent a kit in the mail. If you prefer to register at an event, you can find one near you through the website. Either way, all it takes is a simple swab of the inside of your cheek. You then join the list of potential donors, and you will be called if/when you are found to be a match. Even if you are listed as a match, donating is always voluntary, but it is such a life-saving gift for the recipient.
What goes into donating? You may donate one of two ways (and this will depend on the facility doing the transplant). The most common way to donate marrow is having it drawn from your pelvic bone. It's a fairly simple procedure; for the donor, it results only in some lower back pain for a few days while the marrow is repleted. The other option is a peripheral donation. For this, you will receive a medication to pull your stem cells into your blood stream. After you have received this, you will have your blood drawn. The blood will go through a machine that takes only the stem cells; the rest of your blood will be returned to your body through a separate IV.
There is another donation option. This one is much simpler but can be done only at birth: cord blood donation. When women give birth, they are sometimes asked if they would like to bank blood from the baby's umbilical cord. (Unfortunately, not all hospitals participate in this.) Women can choose to donate that cord blood to a public bank or a private bank. A public cord bank is much like the marrow registry -- donation is free, and the bank will find those in need. If you bank privately, you are saving your cord in case that child or a sibling needs it. For this, there is a fee to collect and store the cord blood.
I can't help but wonder how many of us are on the national registry? How common are registration events in your area? Would you (or did you) bank your child's cord blood?