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How Much Do You Know About Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor?

My Dad wouldn’t be alive if not for a bone marrow donor

Let’s say you were really, really sick and holding onto life by a thread, but there was one hope for you to survive and that was something called “bone marrow.” Except there was a problem:  there was no bone marrow. There was no bone marrow because people are scared of needles and because of that you might die. Not cool, right?

SUNY Broome PTA students will be hosting a marrow drive on Friday, November 1st at the student center in front of the cafeteria at SUNY Broome Community College from 12pm-3pm. Students will be recruiting potential donors along with Be The Match, a non profit organization that I belong to that manages the largest and most diverse donor registry. Getting registered is as easy as a quick cheek swab. If accepted into the donor registry you will be placed on the donor registry for a possible match and have the potential to truly make a difference to thousands of men, women, and children in need of a life-saving transplant.

In the fall of 2011, my dad was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer called Myelofibrosis. Myelofibrosis is a disorder of the bone marrow, in which the marrow is replaced by scar (fibrous) tissue. This means that my dad’s bone marrow was dry. Bone marrow is basically a factory where various blood cells are produced and blood cells are a necessity to live. When a person’s bone marrow is dry, it means they’re not making the blood cells they need to survive. Obviously, this is bad. My dad was one of the lucky ones. Most people wait years for a bone marrow donor and some never find the bone marrow they need. My Dad had two bone marrow transplants.  The first failed, the second took. Because of a selfless person, that we may never get to meet, my Dad is alive today.

There’s a major and urgent need for bone marrow and yet it seems nobody really knows anything about it. And there are a lot of myths that scare people away, so I’m going to dispel some of those myths right now.

Myth #1: You must go to a clinic to get tested and it involves a Goliath of a needle scary enough to make grown men cry. I hear this all the time and it’s not true. It all starts with a simple swab test. You send away for the kit, it comes in the mail, you swab your cheeks and send it off and they add you to the database. Of course there will be needles eventually. How else will they get the bone marrow out of you? But that doesn’t come until much later. And if you’ve survived an epidural and child birth you’re gonna be just fine with the procedure.

Myth #2- It costs an arm and a leg to donation if you end up being a match and it does funky things with your medical insurance. Actually, no. If you register to be a bone marrow donor with the National Marrow Donor Program, they won’t pay you for your marrow, but they’ll cover medical costs, reimburse all travel costs and provide other assistance as well. Can’t promise your boss will be so cool with giving you time off to save a life, but if they’re jerks about it, shame on them.

Myth #3- Once registered to be a bone marrow donor you can’t change your mind and if you’re a match you’ll be hunted down and forced to go through the procedure. As far as I know, we still live in a free country. And while I think it’s be pretty crummy of you to be a match for someone and then back out, it’s still your choice. If you change your mind that’s cool. But what’s not cool is dodging calls from the registry. If you’re a match for someone and you don’t have the guts to tell them you don’t want to donate, they won’t know to start looking for another donor right away and you can really put the person in need at risk of losing their life.

Here are the two ways a person can donate bone marrow according to the National Marrow Donor Program:

PBSC Donation:

Peripheral blood stem cell donation is the most common form of donating. This is a non-surgical procedure (yay!). For 5 days before donation, the donor receives daily injections of a drug that increases blood forming cells in the bloodstream. On the 5th day, the donor’s blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine the separates out the blood forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. Donors may experience headache, bone or muscle aches for several days before collection. These side effects typically disappear shortly after donation within 1 to 2 days.

Marrow Donation

Yeah- this is the one that people don’t like too much, but suck it up buttercup! You’re saving a life! Marrow donation is a surgical procedure. While the donor is under anesthesia, the doctor uses needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. After donation, marrow donors can expect to feel some soreness in the lower back for a few days to several weeks. Marrow donors are typically back to their usual routine in 2 to 7 days.

Registering to be a bone marrow donor literally only takes a few minutes and in the end you could help save a life.  Think about it and do some research. THIS site should help answer your questions.

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