Introduction: How to Save a Life: Bone Marrow Donation
In this instructable, I will tell you how you can save a life through bone marrow donation. You can watch my video above to hear about my experience donating bone marrow to a leukemia patient, or keep reading below to learn about the process.
Step 1: My Background
So a few years ago, there was a woman who was halfway across the country, dealing with the diagnosis of leukemia. Conventional treatment methods had not worked. This disease was going to take her life. But then the doctor brought up the option of bone marrow transplantation. This procedure had the potential to be a cure for her leukemia. But the odds of someone being a close enough genetic match to donate to her were pretty slim. All of her family and friends rushed to get tested to see if they were a match. They had no such luck. It turns out, 70% of individuals needing a bone marrow transplant cannot find a match in their family. That's when the doctor brought up the national bone marrow registry, which is a list of people willing to donate bone marrow. There was a possibility that the match she needed existed somewhere in the country and a much smaller possibility that the match she needed was on the registry. The doctor did not want to provide false hope. He explained that only 2% of the country was on the registry. He then explained that over 3,000 Americans die each year because they cannot find a donor. Her heart sank as she understood her odds. This woman was someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's mother. And she was going to die.
Around this same time, I was on the other side of the country sitting at home and scrolling through Facebook. A girl I barely knew posted something about her cousin who had cancer, and said they were doing a bone marrow drive to find a donor for him. I didn’t really know what that was, but I read up on it and decided I needed to sign up to be a donor.
Step 2: Swab Your Cheeks
All I had to do to get tested was swab my cheeks with a cotton swab and mail it in. My odds of matching someone who needed a donor were also pretty slim, but I wanted to help if I could. A few months later, I got the call. I had matched to a woman halfway across the country who had leukemia.
Step 3: (Method 1) Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Donation
A few months after that I was in a hospital donating bone marrow. It was actually a very easy process in my opinion, especially compared to everything the other woman had gone through.
There are two different methods of bone marrow collection and the patient’s doctor will decide which procedure is done based on what is best for the patient. 75% of the time, the method chosen by the doctor is called peripheral blood stem cell donation, which is the method I did. For this method, you are given injections for five days prior to your procedure to make your body produce extra stem cells. Then on the day of your procedure, you have a needle in one arm removing your blood and a needle in the other arm returning your blood. The blood goes through an apheresis machine to remove the extra stem cells. Since all of my blood was returned to me, I didn’t even feel weak like I have before from just donating blood. The procedure took about 5 hours and I felt so well afterward that I actually went for a walk on the beach.
Step 4: (Method 2) Bone Marrow Donation
The other method the doctor could ask you to do is the traditional bone marrow donation. This is a 1-2 hour surgical procedure performed under anesthesia in which marrow cells are collected from the back of your pelvic bone using a syringe. This is the method chosen 25% of the time and it is generally when the patient is a child. Although I do not have personal experience with this method, I am pretty sure that the procedures that a child with blood cancer has to go through are far worse than this.
Step 5: Save a Life
So now I want you to take a moment and think about the most important person in your life. Is it your mother, your sister, your daughter? Imagine that they had a disease that no doctor could cure. And worse yet, your own body doesn’t have what it takes to save them. Now imagine that someone somewhere does have what it takes to save them, but they aren’t signed up on the registry. What links would you go to save your loved one? And why aren’t we willing to do that for someone else’s loved one? If you think you have what it takes to save a life, please visit https://www.dkms.org/en/register to learn more and sign up. They will send you a kit in the mail to swab your cheeks and send back to them. And if you think someone in your social network might have what it takes to save a life, please share my video at the top of this page with them. For me, all it took was an acquaintance on Facebook. And now, a woman halfway across the country lives an amazing, cancer free life. I don’t normally ask people to share my videos, but in this case, I think we need to have a sense of urgency about the people who are waiting to find their match. Thank you so much for reading!