Last week the Seattle Times ran an article about a family who organized a blood and bone marrow drive. The 14 year-old daughter of this family had a transplant for leukemia, and this year, her father will have one for myelodysplastic syndrome. They decided a drive was a good idea.
Patients who are having an allogeneic transplant (using someone else’s cells) need a donor to provide stem cells. Those having an autologous transplant (using their own cells) do not need a donor.
Becoming a donor
If you are related to someone who needs a bone marrow/stem cell donor, you should ask to be tested, which can be coordinated as part of the patient’s transplant process. If you are a close enough match and will be the patient’s donor, you will have a health evaluation and will sign consent forms before the stem cells are collected, or bone marrow is harvested.
Collecting stem cells
There are two methods to collect stem cells. One is to withdraw bone marrow from the pelvic bones. This is called a bone marrow harvest. The other is to withdraw stems cells from peripheral (circulating) blood. This is called apheresis.
- Bone marrow harvesting is a surgical procedure in which doctors use long needles inserted through the skin to withdraw bone marrow from the crests of the pelvic bones. Donors receive general or spinal anesthesia for the procedure. Most bone marrow donors are able to leave the hospital the same day.
- Apheresis is the process in which stem cells are collected in the blood. Before this can be done, the bone marrow must be stimulated to produce larger than normal numbers of stem cells and release them into the blood stream. This is called mobilization. The donor will receive growth-factor therapy by injection. Growth factors are naturally occurring proteins that stimulate production of stem cells in the body. Typically it takes a few days after receiving the medicine for the stem cells to mobilize. Then the stem cells are collected using an apheresis machine: a catheter (tube) is placed in one of the donor’s large veins so blood can flow out of the body and into the machine, which separates the stem cells from the blood and returns the blood through another catheter. Collection typically takes a few hours, and donors are able to leave the same day.
Visit our website for more information about the bone marrow transplant process.
Joining a donor registry
If you would like to register to be an anonymous donor for a patient who doesn’t have a relative available to donate, or if you would like to donate cord blood when your baby is born, you can do so through the American Bone Marrow Donor Registry and the National Marrow Donor Program.
Consider it. The test is an easy swab of saliva and filling out a form to be on the registry. You could save a life!