Donating Stem Cells

I want to expand on my last post about donating bone marrow / stem cells to save the lives of people like me with cancer and other serious diseases.

What’s the Difference?
Stem cells are made in the bone marrow and mature into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. When they go rogue and produce defective or cancerous cells, one way to stop them is to “reboot” the bone marrow with a transplant of healthy cells.

You can see why the terms “bone marrow transplant” and “stem cell transplant” are used interchangeably. While there is no difference in the transplant procedure itself, there is a difference in how the cells are harvested. More so in the past, liquid marrow containing stem cells was collected using a needle inserted into the donor’s pelvis. In the majority of cases today, they can be harvested from the blood in a non-surgical procedure done in an outpatient clinic.

The Match Game
The key to a successful transplant is the match between a donor’s cells and the patient’s, which is typed using human leukocyte antigens (HLA). HLAs are proteins on the surface of white blood cells and other tissues. If there’s an HLA match, donor cells are less likely to provoke an attack by the patient’s immune system.

The best matches come from siblings or other family members, but people who don’t have a suitable relative must find a donor in one of the bone marrow registries.

Be The Match
Donors must be 18-60 years old and in good health. They can’t be pregnant or have a medical condition such as cancer, severe arthritis or asthma, heart or autoimmune disease, or an STD. (If you recently got a tattoo, you may have to wait a year to donate.)

You can get more info on the nuts and bolts of donating from this FAQ page. The next step would be to contact the Be The Match Registry Center. near you. They’ll have you complete a short health questionnaire and sign a consent form. Then they’ll take a swab of cheek cells or a blood sample for HLA typing and your information will be added to a confidential donor database.

If (or when) your HLA type matches someone needing a transplant, you’ll be called for further testing. If the match is confirmed, you’ll be asked to donate either peripheral blood stem cells or bone marrow depending on what’s best for the patient.

This is a volunteer process and you can withdraw at any time. Or, you might get the chance to save a life, which is a wonderful thing and will look great on your permanent record!


2 thoughts on “Donating Stem Cells

  1. Mike, I donated bone marrow in November for my brother. Iwould have given him my arm if it would
    cure him. Anyway, the only thing I would suggest to those will to donate is the procedure is not a walk in the park. I have a fractured pelvis at the harvest site. However, I knew this going in as I have severe osteoporosis and am 70 years old. It is very
    painful but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I just want people to look carefully at the side efects of donating. It is not an accurated depiction as “no big deal”, “a walk in the park” However I would do it again tomorrow even with my present pelvis pain. Good luck to you and God bless.

  2. Good morning Mike,

    Been up since 4AM, not able to sleep tonight and decided to Google “RICE Chemo” and here I am. Glad I found your writings. Went through the archives and enjoyed your honesty. As a youngster I attended a local Catholic school and decided to become an altar boy. For me, having had the privilege to assist the priest during this service are memories that are deep in my heart to this day. Time moved on and I grew older or matured, not sure which. The time came when I left the Church and moved on with life and to raise a family.

    Life does change upon hearing Doc say “All test indicate that you have NHL with the bone marrow involved and your spleen is twice its size”. That was March of 08 and this journey continues. Living with cancer has allowed me to experience more of me, a deeper part of me, a part that for a long time I ignored. I am glad to know this about myself and thankful to reach this tenderness that nurtures me and I reached this place with cancer.

    So far I have completed two cycles of RICE and will be going back for more juice on the 25th. In the next few weeks I will be scheduled for a stem cell transplant, if all goes well. My only sibling decided not to become a donor after having her blood drawn for testing. The explanation given by her was short and to the point. She simply said “Don’t want to go through this”. Learning to accept her choice has been difficult. Some moments are easy and others are cruel. I am still a perfectly imperfect human being. What I do know is my Love for life, my family and prayer.

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