Friday, December 21, 2007

Register bone marrow and save a life

Normally I reserve this blog strictly for writing purposes, but in the interest of reaching as many people as I can, I hope you will not mind a short post on bone marrow. My daughter has a friend in kindergarten (see who has a very rare blood disorder that eventually means her body will stop producing blood cells--unless she can get a blood marrow donation. To make things worse, her little brother has the same condition. The family has searched all over Germany (where we live) and hasn't been able to find a match yet, and now they're looking in the US. I can't imagine how devastating it must be to face the fact that you might lose both your kids, so I'm posting to encourage people to register.

How it works: with just a mouth swab or 5 ml of blood they can type your blood to see what kind you have. has information about this. I believe you can order a kit through the mail, even.

If you are a match for someone (and there's a 1 in 20,000 chance, which is why the more people who register, the better), there are three ways of getting those stem cells:

1. Cord blood donation. Actually, you can donate this without any kind of test beforehand. If you donate it to the public bank, it is free. You just need a collection agency connection with your hospital. Ask about it if you are pregnant. Even if there isn't one now, the more people who ask about it, the more supply and demand can get working. Cord blood is a one-time donation and identified by a specific number for that unit. You and your baby are not on any kind of list. (For those of you who were told it was prohibitively expensive to save your cord blood--if you save it for yourself, it's expensive, but if you release it "into the wild," it is free.)

2. A process much like giving plasma. You sit in a chair, they take your blood out of your arm and filter it through a machine to remove the stem cells, and return the rest of it to you. Your body regrows blood cells quickly, and there is no more danger or pain than giving blood or plasma.

3. The more traditional way, removing bone marrow. You are anesthetized, and with a small needle they remove some bone marrow from the back of your pelvic bone. You are sore for 2-3 days and your body completely replaces your donated marrow in 4-6 weeks. This is a small procedure, and contrary to common belief, has nothing to do with your spine and is not the same as donating an organ.

If you can't donate stem cells at the moment, but still want to help, you can also donate money to the bone marrow organization. I don't know the cost in the US, but the cost to type one sample in Germany is 50 Euro (more than $50 at present exchange rate). So if you're wanting to give a good gift to somebody this holiday season, consider the fact that you might be able to save the life of someone like Luise or Emil.