Written By Kevin Berry:
Donating blood is one of the most common ways volunteers support others in our society. As someone who donated over 6 gallons early in my life, and later needed transfusions, I can testify to the great feeling that comes from knowing I helped someone out, and how grateful I was when I needed it. Well, there’s another way to help, and all it takes to get started is a cheek swab.
People who are victims of “blood cancers” – myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma – sometimes are treated by receiving a bone marrow transplant. This is a very common procedure, with tens of thousands of people receiving transplants each year. Of course, getting a transplant means having a donor. That’s where you come in!
Right now, in the TOSC contract at Kennedy Space Center, two of us are undergoing this process. One of them is me. By the time this blog is posted, I’ll be at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, receiving a transplant from a total stranger who graciously registered, and was a match for me. Worldwide, there are over 20 million registered donors. Even with that huge population, after a two year search, an acceptable match was just found last August, from a newly signed up donor. Then, early in February, after I was already headed for the hospital, a new, nearly perfect match signed up. I was notified within a few hours of this better match.
Sadly, there are many more people who need transplants than there are matched donors, especially among minorities. If you are between 18 and 44, and are interested in being a potential donor, please go to www.bethematch.org. You’ll get a cheek swap kit in the mail, send it in, and then what? Well, there is a less than 1 in 500 chance you’ll ever be called. So, if you get the call, then what?
You need to know that bone marrow donation isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. First, most transplants aren’t even done using bone marrow! Your bone marrow creates stem cells, which later become red or white blood cells, or platelets. Stem cells are filtered out of the donor’s blood, very similar to the way platelets are. The process involves taking some medicine for a few days to help you generate more stem cells than usual, then filtering them, returning your own blood to you. You may even get orange juice and a cookie!
Sometimes, though, it is necessary to donate actual marrow. For that, you get anesthesia, so you’re not awake for the outpatient process. Its the same kind you get for dental surgery or colonoscopies. A small amount is taken from your pelvis. I’ve had this procedure done four times, and can tell you it’s much more like “having a boo boo on your hip” than surgery. Just a tiny needle mark and a little soreness for a couple of days.
Many of us know people who have had stem cell transplants, or need them. A few clicks on a web page, a quick swab of your cheek, and you could save a life. Please consider signing up at www.bethematch.org.
If you’d like to follow my transplant journey, I’m blogging my adventure for Cure Magazine at http://www.curetoday.com/community/kevin-berry