August is dedicated to raising Organ Donor Awareness, and it’s important to know that donation isn’t limited to the organs you can provide after your death. Becoming a bone marrow donor gives you the chance to help others on their journey to healing during your lifetime.
What is Bone Marrow & Why are Donors Needed?
Bone marrow is a soft, spongy tissue found inside the bones. It contains stem cells, undifferentiated cells that are able to become any type of specialised cell, in any part of the body. These cells have incredible healing potential, as they can replace damaged or diseased cells.
A bone marrow transplant can be used to help treat a variety of serious blood diseases, including leukaemia, aplastic anaemia, marrow failure, and immune deficiency disorders. These diseases mostly affect children and teenagers. In 25-30% of cases, a sibling can act as suitable bone marrow donor for the patient. But in 70-75% of cases, the sibling cells cannot be used, and another matching donor must be found.
Volunteer donors provide a small blood sample which is analysed and classified according to tissue type. This information is recorded in a bone marrow register, which is checked whenever a donor is required. It sounds simple enough, but because there are so many possible tissue types out there, the chance of finding a suitable donor is very small – just one in 100 000! So, the more people that volunteer to become donors, the better the chance of finding a match.
Often, the right donor is the patient’s only hope of survival. You might just be the hero they need!
The Transplant Process
During a transplant, the healthy stem cells are extracted from the donor’s blood. It’s a minor procedure with minimal discomfort. The stem cells are given to the patient, and begin to produce healthy new cells, usually within 15-30 days after the procedure. Think about it – it’s that easy to make a lasting difference in somebody’s life.
Do You Qualify as a Bone Marrow Donor?
There are a few key criteria a person must meet in order to donate bone marrow:
- Between 18 and 45 years old
- In general good health
- Not at risk of contracting hepatitis or sexually transmitted diseases
- Weight of over 50kg, with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 30
- Commitment to helping anyone in need of a transplant
To become a bone marrow donor, visit The Sunflower Fund website: www.sunflowerfund.co.za, or call them on 0800 12 10 82. You will be asked to donate two tubes of your blood for testing. Your results will be recorded, and if you ever come up as a patient match, the Registry will contact you. All costs involved in the transplant process will be carried by the patient.
Becoming a bone marrow donor costs you nothing, but to someone in need, it could mean everything.
Hopkins Medicine: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org
Sunflower Fund: http://www.sunflowerfund.org.za
South African Bone Marrow Registry: frequently asked questions. Retrieved from: http://www.sabmr.co.za