7 Tips on Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor
April 20, 2017 | by City of Hope
They say the best gifts come from the heart, but the most impactful one you can give might be in your cells.
More than 7,500 patients worldwide are in need of a stem cell or bone marrow donor, and you may be that special someone who gives a desperate patient a miraculous second chance at life.
One simple way to do this is to join the national Donor registry Be The Match.
As City of Hope prepares for its 41st annual “Celebration of Life” reunion event, during which bone marrow and stem cell transplant survivors celebrate their victories in the fight against cancer, we want to express our gratitude for everyone who has joined the registry and encourage them to stay involved.
And to keep the goodwill flowing, we’ve listed seven helpful tips for potential donors below.
1. Feel good about the good you’re doing.
By joining a registry such as Be the Match, you’re increasing the odds that a patient in need will find a matching donor. And if you’re a match, you’ll have the rare opportunity to save someone’s life.
2. Honor your commitment.
“Sadly, we find that about 50 percent of matching people on the registry, when called to be donors, change their minds,” said Be The Match program director Jill Kendall. “Yes, you can change your mind. But your decision will be devastating to the patient.” Following through on your commitment has an unquantifiably positive impact on everyone involved.
3. Update and re-evaluate.
Let the registry know if you move or if your name changes so you can be contacted quickly if a patient is a match. Also, if you become pregnant or will leave the country for an extended period, you can be put on a temporary hold until you are able to donate again.
It’s possible that you could be on the registry for 10 or more years before being contacted for a donation. So if your health or life circumstances change and you can no longer be a donor, please contact the registry and ask that your name be taken off the list. This way a patient will not be given false hope.
4. If you’re asked to donate, connect with your recipient’s story.
The process remains anonymous unless after one year both donor and patient decide to exchange information. However, Be the Match will share the patient’s age, gender and other details of his or her “story” with you. Thinking about this patient and others you know who could be in a similar situation will help you feel invested in the patient whose life you are about to save.
5. Be open to whichever procedure is necessary.
Although 80 percent of procedures involve harvesting stem cells from peripheral blood through a process called apheresis, 20 percent require the donor’s cells to be harvested directly from his or her bone marrow while under general anesthesia in an outpatient surgery. For certain patients, mostly children, traditional bone marrow transplant is better because of potential complications from graft-versus-host disease.
6. Prepare for your procedure.
Tips for apheresis: You will receive an injection of Neupogen (filgrastim) once a day for five days prior to the procedure to help stimulate stem cell growth. Prior to the procedure, it’s important to stay hydrated and follow your nurse consultant’s instructions regarding diet. Cut back on caffeine and boost your calcium intake.
On the day of the procedure, you’ll lie in a comfortable bed for six hours while stem cells are collected from your bloodstream. Bring along a friend or relative to keep you company, or bring a laptop or tablet packed with your favorite entertainment. Nurses will ensure your comfort, but don’t be shy about asking them for assistance, including bringing you a warm blanket or bedside commode.
Tips for bone marrow harvest: Be ready to be greeted by happy nurses and surgeons excited to see a healthy person helping to save someone’s life. Remember to bring a pillow for the ride home, as you will be sore from the procedure. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen should also help. With both procedures, you should avoid heavy lifting for the next few days.
7. Feel good about what you’ve done.
You’ve just given someone a second chance at life. You’ve earned bragging rights, so share your experience on social media. You may just inspire others to do the same.
Learn about City of Hope's National Marrow Donor Program, and how to join the national registry.
If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.