Donating Bone Marrow

The number of people in the U.S. on the various organ transplant waiting lists topped 100,000 in 2008 and almost 50,000 more are expected to sign up this year. But more than half these people will die before a transplant becomes possible due to the shortage of donor organs.

Compare the size of the waiting list with the number of transplants performed. Jim Warren, editor of Transplant News reports there were 21,745 patients transplanted with organs from deceased donors in 2008 and 6,213 patients who received organs from living donors.

These statistics involve solid organs and don’t include bone marrow transplants (also called stem cell transplants). These are used to “cure” many serious illnesses involving the blood and immune systems, e.g. sickle cell anemia, leukemia, malignant lymphomas, multiple myeloma and solid tumors.

I’ve developed an intense interest in bone marrow transplants since I had one in June. Fortunately I found the perfect donor; intelligent, handsome, witty and willing. But thousands of patients in need of life-saving transplants are not as fortunate.

Donors and patients are matched according to tissue type, specifically their human leukocyte antigens. HLAs are proteins the immune system uses to recognize which cells are yours and which are foreign. The closer the HLA match, the better the chances of a successful transplant. So while there may be several million donors in various databases around the world, it can be extremely difficult to find a viable match for a specific person.

You can help improve their odds.

Consider becoming a bone marrow donor. Most donations involve a simple peripheral blood stem cell draw (similar to a transfusion), which is an outpatient, non-surgical procedure. If actual marrow is needed, less than 5% is harvested and the body replaces it in 4-6 weeks. (Not the case with a kidney or lung donation.)

Join the Be The Match Registry run by the National Marrow Donor Program. It is the largest registry of its kind in the world and helps facilitate more than 4,300 transplants annually. Get your questions answered on their FAQ page, then sign up to become a donor.

YouTube Videos:

Life, It’s In You|
Donating Bone Marrow
The Need and Ease of Bone Marrow Donations


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