Mention the phrase “bone marrow donation” and most people will wince at the thought of the procedure. But bone marrow donation has come a long way since its painful and invasive days. It used to involve general surgery and a long needle. No more!
Nowadays donating bone marrow is as simple as donating blood. So if you are thinking of becoming a donor and potentially saving someone’s life, read on to discover if you are a match for this life-changing experience.
Why is bone marrow donation so important?
Every year hundreds of South Africans with blood diseases, such as leukaemia or bone marrow failure, reach that critical stage where their only chance of survival is getting a bone marrow transplant from a healthy donor. In 30% of the cases, a donor match is found within their families, but for the remaining 70% their only hope is to find a donor through the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR).
Here’s how to become a donor
The first step is to register with the SA Bone Marrow Registry. A few test tubes of blood will be drawn from your arm, which will be analysed and the information will be stored on the registry. You can sign up through the Sunflower Fund – an NGO that has helped grow the South African Bone Marrow Registry from 800 registered donors in 1999 to over 65 500 today. Donor-tissue typing information is only held by the SABMR, which means that all donor information is strictly confidential.
You can still help the Sunflower Fund even if you can’t be a donor
There are many costs around testing and matching donors, which is why the Sunflower Fund holds events to raise money, with National Bandana Day (held on 12 October) being the largest. Any and all help is welcomed, be it spreading the word about the need for registering or buying a bandana to raise much-needed funds. Donations can also be made directly to the Sunflower Fund.
Sunflower Fund contact details:
0800 12 10 82 or visit www.sunflowerfund.org.za
Who should register as donors?
Because there is only a one in 100 000 chance of finding a compatible bone marrow donor, a wide selection of donors, from all ethnic backgrounds, is needed. The registry is currently at over 65 500 and aims to expand to 100 000. In addition, urgent donations from the following groups are needed:
- Donors between the ages of 18 and 45
- Male donors
- Black, Asian or mixed-race ethnic background
Why are male donors needed?
- Only 45% of all donors on the SABMR are male.
- Males are less likely to suffer from anaemia, a condition that can prevent a volunteer from donating.
- It is not possible to donate bone marrow during and up to one year after pregnancy, which makes males particularly valuable.
What if I am a match for someone?
If you are a match, you will have to undergo a second, high-resolution blood test to make sure that you are also a tissue-type match. This will ensure greater success of the transplant. Once the tissue typing has been confirmed, you will be given a course of injections over five days before the peripheral blood stem-cell transplant (PBSCT). This will stimulate the hormones responsible for increasing your blood stem cells. You may get a few minor side effects at this time, which will feel like a mild case of the flu (i.e. mild fever and aches). Once a good concentration of stem cells has been created, the harvesting can begin.
Now all that is needed is your time
Remember there is no surgery involved, so even a seven-hour (at most) procedure is not scary, just time consuming. Think of it as a very long blood donation. You will have to stay still in that time as you will be hooked up to a drip that removes blood from one arm, via a machine that harvests mononuclear cells and returns your blood to the other arm via another, but you will be able to eat and drink.
How will I feel after donating?
Your body’s stem cells are very quick to regenerate, which means you should feel absolutely fine after the procedure and even better for knowing you have helped save someone’s life!
Can a family search for a donor match privately?
If family members who have been tested privately are not found to be a match, they can have their details transferred to the SABMR. This does not happen automatically. They will have to complete and sign a transfer form, which can be obtained from the SABMR or the Sunflower Fund on 0800 12 10 82. Searches for donors are only done by the SABMR at the request of a transplant centre and/or specialist physician.
Source: Discovery Health