Did you know November is bone marrow awareness month? There are 18,000 people in the United States waiting for a bone marrow transplant. With less than 2 percent of the country on the bone marrow registry, it has never been more important to consider being a donor.
Each year, 3,000 people die while waiting for a bone marrow match. Such was the case of a Bangor woman, who had cancer of the white blood cells in her bone marrow, who died while waiting to be matched with a donor. On Oct. 14, a bone marrow drive was held at the Bangor YMCA in her honor.
Deutsche Knochemarkspenderdatei (DKMS), meaning Bone Marrow Donor Center, is the largest national registry. It was initially founded in Germany and has been used ever since to provide healthy bone marrow to patients with bone cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Despite the mass amounts of people registered, many are still unable to find their complete genetic match in order to receive a donation. Race and ancestry form each person’s genetic make-up. The minority population is considerably underrepresented on this registry. With more support from this population, DKMS hopes to save more lives of all genetic backgrounds.
In order to be eligible for bone marrow donation, you must be between the ages of 18-55 (25-40 being the ideal age), be in good health and weigh more than 110 pounds. You will not be qualified to register if you have ever been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, kidney or liver disease, uncontrolled epilepsy, blood clotting, bleeding disorders, cancers or autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia.
If you do qualify, all you have to do is complete a registration form stating your name, address, ethnicity and how to contact you in case you are a match. Once the registration form is complete, you will be asked to swab the inside of your cheek, and then your information will be submitted into the national registry. It is as simple as that!
If a donor is chosen to be a match for a patient requiring a bone marrow transplant, the process is simple and is controlled by DKMS. There are two ways in which to donate bone marrow: peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC) or bone marrow donation via aspiration.
PBSC involves receiving the stem cells from a needle in the arm (similar to an IV) and having the stem cells filtered through the blood via a special machine. This simple and relatively pain free procedure accounts for about 80 percent of donations. Bone marrow donation via aspiration of the pelvic bone requires the donor to be under general anesthesia through which no painful procedure is experienced. As with any medical procedure, side effects can occur, but they are minimal when compared to the alternative: a person dying without the bone marrow donation.
You can become a donor today simply by going to the DKMS website at www.dkms.de and registering. They will send you the tools and directions to swab yourself. Once you send the cheek swabs back to DKMS, you will officially be on the bone marrow donor registry. People of all ages are in need of a bone marrow transplant; maybe you are their match. Even if you may be unable to register or donate, you are still able to spread the word and help save someone’s life.
Jenna Marcotte, of Hampden, is a nursing student at the University of Maine. The OpEd was written in collaboration with fellow students Ashleigh Fairbank, of Levant; Jemima Mensah, of Orono; Emily Barnes, of Weare, N.H.; and Eileen Stirling, of South Berwick; and Associate Professor of Nursing Mary Brakey.