Bone Marrow Saves Lives

Bone Marrow Donation Basics

Bone Marrow Donation Basics
By Wikihow

Bethematch.com1. Understand why people donate bone marrow. Bone marrow is a spongy material that is found inside major bones, such as the hipbone. The stem cells contained in the bone marrow are the building blocks of the blood: The red blood cells – which carry oxygen; the white cells – which fight infection; and the platelets – which stop bleeding, are all produced by the stem cells and are released into the blood stream via the veins and the thin tissue surrounding the bone.

However, in people with serious blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia, these vital stem cells are either diseased or are not produced at all. In this situation, a bone marrow transplant is the best and sometimes only way to treat and potentially cure the disease.

Around 10,000 people in the U.S are diagnosed each year with diseases which require bone marrow transplants. Seven out of ten people who require a bone marrow transplant do not have a matching donor in their family, and therefore rely on the registry of bone marrow donors to find a match.

The process for matching a patient with a donor involves comparing human leukocyte antigen (HLA) types in order to find a match. People with shared ancestry are more likely to possess matching HLA types, which is why it’s extra important for people with certain racial or ethnic backgrounds to become donors.

The racial and ethnic backgrounds with the greatest need for donations include African American or Black, South Asian or Pacific Islanders, American Indian and Alaska natives, Hispanic or Latinos and people of mixed race.

2. Know the difference between donating PBSC and donating bone marrow. There are two main types of bone marrow donation. The first is an actual bone marrow donation, which involves the removal of bone marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. This procedure is usually done under general anesthetic. PBSC (which stands for peripheral blood stem cell) donation is the more common method used nowadays, and involves filtering stem cells directly from the blood. It is these blood stem cells, rather than the bone marrow itself, which are necessary in the treatment of blood cancers and other diseases.

In bone marrow donations, bone marrow containing the blood stem cells necessary for the patient to start producing their own healthy blood cells is taken from the pelvic bone and given to the patient. With PBSC, the stem cells are filtered directly from circulating (peripheral) blood. Even though this procedure does not actually involve the use of bone marrow, it is still commonly referred to as a bone marrow donation.
When you join a bone marrow donation registry, you are agreeing to donate using whichever method the patient’s doctor deems appropriate. You do not get to choose which method of donation you would prefer.

3. Find out about the costs and risks associated with donating bone marrow. In terms of costs, the expense of making a blood marrow donation is completely covered by either the National Marrow Donor Program, or the patient’s medical insurance. This includes travel costs and certain non-medical expenses. The only cost that is not covered is any time taken off work to attend health exams and information sessions or during the recovery period. On the other hand, a donor will never be paid to donate a bone marrow either.

In terms of risk, the dangers involved in the bone marrow donation process are minimal. In fact, over 99% of donors make a full recovery after the procedure.

With blood marrow donation, the only major risk involves the use of anesthesia during the procedure itself. In very rare cases, anesthesia can lead to stroke, heart attack and death. After the procedure you will experience some pain in the location from which the blood marrow was taken, which may make walking difficult. You may also feel tired and weak. These symptoms should pass after 1 to 7 days.

With PBSC donation, the risks are minimal. The procedure itself, which involves filtering your blood through a machine, is not dangerous at all. However, the medication you receive before and during the procedure may cause symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, chills or cramping, but these should go away as soon as the donation is complete.

4. Understand that you are making a commitment. Before you begin the donation process or sign up to the bone marrow registry, it is important that you research the entire process thoroughly and understand the implications of your actions. Receiving a bone marrow transplant may be a patient’s only chance of survival — it is literally a matter of life or death. Therefore, it is not something you should undertake lightly. Make sure that you are willing to to carry through with the donation when the time comes, regardless of whether the procedure is surgical (bone marrow) or non-surgical (PBSC).

The chances of you being called upon to make a donation are hard to predict, as it will depend on your individual DNA and whether it is a match for a patient in need. If you possess a common tissue type, there may be less need for your donation, as there will be multiple matches available. #*If you have a less common tissue type one of two things might happen: you may never be called upon, or you may be the only available match for a given patient.

According to Be The Match registry, about 1 in every 540 registered donors will be called upon to make a donation — of either bone marrow or blood stem cells — to a patient.

Although it is possible to back out of a donation once you have signed up for the registry, you must consider the fact that you may be the only person on the registry who provides an exact match for a patient in need, and refusing to go through with the procedure may seriously affect or delay their chances of recovery. In going through with the donation, you could literally be saving someone’s life.

If you do need to back out of the donation, be sure to notify the registry right away, so they can continue their search for another donor as quickly as possible.

5. Consider some alternatives. If you are not in a position to donate bone marrow yourself, due to ineligibility or other factors, remember that there are other things you can do to help patients in need. Monetary donations are always welcome. These donations can help to cover uninsured patients’ medical bills and other expenses, help the registry to find and vet new donors, or help to fund medical research.

It is possible to make a direct donation to the registry (100% of which goes to helping patients in one of the ways outlined above), to make a legacy gift by including the registry in your estate planning, to organize charitable payroll deductions at your workplace, or to raise money by hosting a fundraising or awareness event. Find out more at
One other option is to donate your baby’s umbilical cord, if you are expecting a child. Along with bone marrow and blood stem cells, the blood in a newborn baby’s umbilical cord is a rich source of the stem cells necessary to save the lives of patients (usually small children) suffering from diseases such as leukemia. Cord donation is completely safe for both the mother and baby, as the blood is taken from the cord immediately after birth, tested, then frozen and stored in a cord blood bank. This type of donation is completely free and anonymous.