What could be more rewarding than saving a life? Absolutely nothing... Similar to donating your body's organs after passing on, here to you can also save a life. What a great gift to give someone huh? The chance to live. Wow... Though, there is a difference. Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor you don't have to have passed on. In this procedure, you are a healthy living donor. Once again, no passing on required... Thus, by donating bone marrow, it gives a very ill person a chance to build a new healthy immune system that is better able to fight an illness. Therefore, if you have a cancer, an autoimmune disease, a damaged organ, or malfunctioning bone marrow from previous chemotherapy or radiation treatments, donor bone marrow and a transplant could lead to a better quality of life or a cure. Unfortunately it's not that easy. You need a "match". This means that the doctors look for matching tissue type and MOST IMPORTANTLY, they look at the HLA's (Human Leukocyte Antigens). What are the HLA's and why are they so crucial? They are proteins found in most cells of your body. They can be found so easy, all a doctor has to do is to swab the inside your mouth for some cheek cells. It's these proteins that your immune system recognizes which cells belong in your body and which that don't. Friend or foe. So, a recipient patient that has one or many siblings, the chances for an easy and more closer match is the first place to look. Siblings offer about a 25% to 30% chance for a match and MUST come from the same parents. If that's not a possibility, you may get a close "match" from an unrelated donor. That donor MUST be from the same race(s), and gender is not relevant at all. Recipient patients of mixed races is difficult. Their chance of finding a close matching donor lowers to about 5% to 7%. Why so low? First, there are very few bone marrow donors. Second, there is even fewer donors with the correct mixed races. Finally, you still need the closest/correct match. This is why The Bone Marrow Registry is so important and can give hope to some ill patients.
So, it all starts with having the correct "match". This means not every ones bone marrow will work in each others body. Kind of similar to a blood transfusion. The newly introduced blood MUST be the same type as yours. MUST. Though, in the case of bone marrow, it does not have to be an exact match as it does have to be with blood. But, the closer the match, the higher the odds of a successful bone marrow transplant and a new healthy immune system that will grow and can fight the illness that the receiving patient has. A closer match also means the body is less likely for rejection. That's a big deal. If rejection does happen, this is known as the "graft-versus-host disease" which has very drastic complications. The receiving patient could get severe organ damage, infections, various new illnesses, and a very high possibility of death. Why is this? The newly introduced healthy bone marrow won't graft (be accepted by your body) and will be so strong it will take over your weakened immune system and body. Therefore, it sees your body as a threat and does what's it's intended for. Killing foreign cells, organs, and very possibly the patient.
Well, since I touched on the grim consequences of a rejected (failed) bone marrow transplant and the complications and risks for the recipient, what does the donor face? That's simple. The donor may have temporary nausea, tingling, pain, insomnia, fatigue, and headaches. These are side effects more so than what can be classified as risks or complications. These side effects happen more so when the donor gives the bone marrow through a big needle that is inserted into the shin, hip, or pelvic area. If the bone marrow is taken from the peripheral blood (circulating blood from the body taken through an IV), then there is no pain at all. Maybe just some temporary fatigue and/or tingling. Those decisions on how to harvest (collect) the bone marrow from the donor will rely on the doctors recommendation which is best for the recipient patient. And if you are wondering if it costs anything to become a donor, the cost is nothing. In addition, the donor is not compensated for their time. They just receive the enjoyment of trying to save anothers life. Yes, that is a priceless feeling.
It should be noted there are two ways for bone marrow transplantation. First is an Autologous Transplant. Here, the patients own stem cells are harvested from their own bone marrow or peripheral blood and reintroduced back into their own body. This form of transplant is favored if possible. This will be determined by the doctor and the patients type of illness. Because the stem cells are the patients own, the chance for rejection and complications is extremely minimal. That being said, it still does not guarantee as successful transplant. Why so? Because your stem cells are still predispositioned with all of the patients genetics. That means they will be getting both good and any bad cells that maybe causing the illness. So, in a situation of trying to regenerate a malfunctioning organ or maybe a spinal injury caused by an accident, the autologous transplant would probably be preferred. Now, if the patient had a cancer or autoimmune disease, reintroducing the patients own stem cells most likely wouldn't work. The reason is the patient would be getting back the same bad cells that they are trying to get rid of to become healthy. This is where the Allogenic Transplant becomes important. Here, the patient is receiving bone marrow/stem cells from an unrelated donor. Yep, a complete stranger. That donor is healthy and determined to be a match. And where would that stranger be found at? One of the several Bone Marrow Registries. Please understand by the two methods of bone marrow transplantation I explained, I intentionally left out all the details of each procedure. Remember, this is a blog and not a medical procedure book.
Bone Marrow Definition Link
National Marrow Donor Program Link
Project Marrow Link
The Bone Marrow Foundation Link
World Marrow Donor Association Link
Asians For Miracle Marrow Matches Link
AHEPA Marrow Donor Registry Link
DKMS Bone Marrow Donor Center Link
Africian American Marrow Connection Link
Mavin Foundation Link - FOR MIXED RACES
Ezer Mizion Link
Swab a Cheek Link
Patient and Child Getting Cheeks Swabbed Video - IT'S EASY
Bone Marrow Transplant for Dogs Video
Canine Bone Marrow Transplant Video
Canine Cheek Swabbing Video - used to determine illness, bone marrow donor, and breed
In conclusion, maybe it's time to step up and do the right thing. Statistics show that on average only 1 in 540 will go on to become an actual donor. Now, if a recipient has a unique tissue type and is of mixed races, that recipient may only have a 1 in 10 million chance to find a donor from the various registries. And then some recipients unfortunately will never find a donor. So, step outside your box. Get your cheek swabbed and become part of one of the various Bone Marrow Registries. Kids, adults, men, women, all races and mixed races, and even your pets can participate. Hey, being a donor and saving someones life is a pretty cool thing. Especially if it was your own life that needed to be saved someday...