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FAQ's asked of a donor

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  • FAQ's asked of a donor

    I wanted to provide everyone a list of questions I have been frequently asked as a bone marrow donor. Although some of them may seem a little silly, it just reflects on how people misunderstand the process.

    Q: Did you have to donate bone marrow to be on the register?

    A: No. When I signed up, I only had to provide a small vial's worth of blood. Today, the process is quite a bit simpler, and uses mouth swabs to collect DNA samples that are then typed and placed in a database. When someone is diagnosed with an illness that would require a bone marrow transfusion, the doctor then searches the database for a match. There is a long (but quick) process between a match, and the actual donation.

    Q: Did they have to break your bones to collect the bone marrow?

    A: OW! --- NO!!! There are two methods for collecting bone marrow, and neither of them require breaking bones. I selected to go through surgery, which required me to be placed under anesthesia. At that point, they took me to an operating room and used needles to extract material from my pelvic bone (sounds scary, but it really was no biggie). The other option that has become quite popular is called "peripheral blood stem cell" transplants which involves injections of human hormones that make the body create extra stem cells that get pushed out into the blood stream, which are then harvested by machine similar to dialysis. I personally would still choose the operation over the PBSC simply because I get bored sitting that long (2 days, if I remember correctly). However, the patient's doctor can decide on the extraction method, and about 85% of the time now they select PBSC from what I understand.

    Q: Did it hurt?

    A: Yes, but not as bad as one would think. To give some perspective, here's how it happened... I went into the operating room on a late Thursday morning, was released before 5pm, and was at work the next Monday. Had I been in a job that required lifting, I probably would have had to be out a couple additional days. Overall, however, I discounted the pain - I knew (theoretically) what the recipient had to have gone through and just couldn't seem to find the justification to complain about my own inconvenience. Plus I had some kick-ass pain killers. =)

    Q: Did I know the recipient?

    A: No. When I was initially matched, I was told that a woman, around age 29, needed a marrow transplant. At that point, I had to provide more blood samples to see if I was a better match over other possible matches. Turns out we were a perfect match. In some states, the recipient and donor can communicate with each other, but only after a year, and only after both parties agree to the communication. For me, turns out we both wanted to find out who the other party was.

    Q: How much did it cost you?

    A: My only expense was that I lost a day of vacation. My boss gave me Thursday off with pay, and I took Friday off from my vacation days. Other than that, everything else was paid for. I had a couple different medical examinations (one by an oncology specialist to see if I had cancer risks myself), 3 pints of blood drawn for the surgery, a night's stay at a hotel the night before surgery, the operation itself, pizza after I woke up, as well as prescription medication... all paid for. I could have gotten miles driven reimbursed as well, but it wasn't worth it to me to get that. Basically, everything was free, and I had a really good medical screening to boot!

    Q: Why would you do something like that for someone you didn't know?

    A: Giving up a kidney is a big deal; donating blood is an inconvenience. To me, donating bone marrow was just barely one step up from donating blood; and considering that it could save a life, it seemed like a no-brainer. All my stem cells were replaced by my body in a matter of a couple weeks, and there has been no short- or long-term consequences with donation that I've experienced. Overall, it has been a small hiccup in my life, but has had an enormous impact on someone else, along with their family.

    Q: How did you find out about the registry?

    A: Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for me to be aware of the National Bone Marrow Registry, now called "Be the Match." A young girl died in my town, who had a match. However, complications set in before she could receive the marrow and past away. Before then, I never even knew that someone could donate their marrow, and after looking into it, I signed up within a month of finding out about the girl's situation.

    Q: Would you do it again?

    A: Just tell me when, and I'll be there.