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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How To Save A Life

by MAB (bio)

When I was about eight years old my older brother had leukemia. The news and subsequent treatments were a hardship for the family and my brother's health did not improve. To save his life the doctor's began a search for a bone marrow donor. Another brother ended up being a match and was able to donate. After a very intense three month process my brother pulled through against the odds.

That experience left a big impression that has stayed with me throughout my life. In fact in college I studied cancer quite a bit and thought about working in cancer research. But I didn't end up in medical school and I didn't get a PhD so what could I do? The answer came over 10 years ago when I donated blood and saw that I could also sign up to be a marrow or stem cell donor. So I went through the easy process of getting on the registry. That involved a simple blood draw. Once they have your blood they work out all the complex markers that make your cells unique. If someone needs a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplants are now less common thanks to recent advances in medical technology) finding a match is much more complex and less likely than finding someone with your blood type.

It took more than ten years, but I got a call over a year ago from someone at the National Marrow Donor Program. They said there was someone with Leukemia who needed a stem cell transplant and I was a pretty good match. About a week later I started the donation process which involved a few interviews with doctors, a physical, and daily shots that made me produce large quantities of stem cells. After a week of daily shots I went in on a Saturday for the donation process. That took about four hours. Afterwords I was weak and felt like I had the flu for about two days.

My stem cells were then flown to the intended recipient. For confidentiality reasons I had no idea who this person was or where they lived. I was told I would have to wait a year to get in contact but that was contingent on the person's health and consent to contact. So the year went by and we both consented to releasing our contact information. This last week we have been in touch for the first time and it has been very rewarding. She is effusive in her gratitude even though I don't feel it was a big deal and I would certainly do it again. I feel there is a huge upside to getting on the registry and donating. We don't get many chances to literally save a life.

I encourage you to find out how to get on the NMDP registry.

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