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Help a Warrior Out

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Katy mom shares the importance of becoming a bone marrow donor

Guest Blog by Kelly Schuler

I had no idea how important it is to become a bone marrow donor until my daughter Lucy was diagnosed with Leukemia at 2 years old. She is a fighter and is winning her battle! Currently in remission, Lucy will continue to undergo chemotherapy for another year. The intensive two-and-a-half years of treatment will be enough to keep this dreadful cancer away. Although Lucy has received numerous blood transfusions, a bone marrow transfusion is not required. Many of our fellow young cancer warriors however are not so fortunate. Lucy has several friends on the same battlefield whose only hope of survival is to replace their cancer-ridden bone marrow with healthy marrow via a donor.

The fact that only 2% of Americans are on the national bone marrow donor registry may be evidence that many people are simply unaware that the need for donors is vast. There are more than 70 medical conditions for which the matching bone marrow is the only life saving remedy available. As many as 3,000 people die in the U.S. each year waiting for a bone marrow match and an even greater number of people die from complication arising from partially matched donors. Additionally, there are 16,000 people on the marrow transplant waiting list right now and their best chance of finding a matching bone marrow if from a donor of the same race or ethnicity. Black, Indian, Asian, Hawaiian, Hispanic and patients from multiple races are especially in need of donors.

The lack of knowledge for the need for donors may be comparable to the destitute of education regarding the donation process. Many people may be worried about sacrificing a great amount of time. Others may be concerned that the process is a painful one that may pose a health risk to the donor.  How many people really know the facts?

Anyone between the ages of 18-60 in good general health can register to be a donor. Registry can be as simple as filling out some basic information on line. A registration kit is mailed and a cotton swab included in the kit is used to swab your cheek cells. The donor’s tissue type is used to detect any possible matches to patients in need. If the donor is contacted by the bone marrow bank, he or she may be asked to donate in one of two ways:

  • Bone marrow donation- is a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is withdrawn from the back of the donor’s pelvic bones. This process takes place in a hospital where general and regional anesthesia is always used. Donors generally go home the same day they donate. They do experience some pain in their lower back for a few days afterwards, but normally return to their daily routines in one or two days.
  • Peripheral blood cell (PBSC) donation- involves giving blood through a needle in the arm. A machine separates out the cells used in transplants and returns the remaining blood.

In both cases, the donor’s immune system is not compromised and the donated cells replace themselves within four to six weeks. There is no cost to the donor to donate and any travel costs are reimbursed by the registry. On average the donation process can take approximately 30 to 40 hours, including travel time, over four to six weeks.

Too many kids die waiting for a bone marrow match. Clearly, these sacrifices are insignificant compared to their life being saved. It would be wonderful to clear the cancer battlefield and allow Lucy’s friends and fellow warriors who are awaiting bone marrow transplants a chance to be healed and a chance to go home. Give a warrior a chance and become a bone marrow donor today by registering at marrow.org or dkmsaamericas.org.

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