I got a call yesterday from a representative at the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). I never answer my cell phone at work. I still don’t know why I picked up the phone. When she identified herself and told me why she was calling, tears welled up in my eyes. I am a potential match for a 16-year-old boy with leukemia.
My husband and I got on the registry a couple of years ago during a football fan appreciation day at our university. A group of alumni were having a donor drive on the football field, trying to find a match for their friend who needed a bone marrow transplant. The person in need was a minority and they couldn’t find a match for her. If you need a bone marrow transplant as a minority, your chances of survival are much lower because there are not enough minorities registered to donate. It can be even more difficult if the person in need is multi-ethnic. Family members match the patient generally only 25 to 30 percent of the time.
We filled out forms with contact information and specific questions about ethnicity and then gave a cheek swab. I never thought my love of football would lead me to this moment.
Fast forward to yesterday. The representative from NMDP first asked me if I was still interested in moving forward and I didn’t hesitate at all. I’m only a potential match. The first step was to check to see if I had any health issues that would immediately prevent me from donating. I took a 59-question survey online with lots of fun questions. I went home and called some family members and talked to some friends. Responses ranged from “oh! If you go through with it, can I come with you?” (my sister, the nurse) to just plain “wow,” followed by twenty questions.
The representative and I talked today. I didn’t have any bad hits on the survey, so it’s on to the next step. Next week, I’m going to a lab to give a blood sample. The blood sample will be analyzed to see if I’m actually a match and to see if I have any infectious diseases. From this point, it is still only a 1 in 12 chance that I will match the patient, so any good thoughts are much appreciated!
I asked the representative if the need was urgent. She said that usually the doctor starts looking for a bone marrow donor when the need is pretty serious, but she did not have specific information on the patient. It is up to the doctor to analyze potential matches and select the best one. Since NMDP operates regional offices, the representative in the Bay Area doesn’t know if there is more than one potential match or just me. It will take at least a week, possibly longer for me to hear back after I give the blood sample. Even if I do match, it could be that the patient isn’t at a point where they can receive the transplant. It will all depend on what the doctor thinks is best.
Contrary to popular belief, donating isn’t all that painful. Many donations nowadays are actually peripheral blood stem cell donations. This is an outpatient procedure where they hook up both arms to a machine. Blood is pumped out of one arm and through the machine, which separates out blood-forming cells and then pumps the non-blood-forming cells back into the other arm. It is possible that the donation could also be a liquid marrow donation, which is also an outpatient procedure where the donor is put under general anesthesia and the marrow is taken from the pelvic bone with a syringe.
People have asked me where this person is. NMDP will only release the gender, age and type of disease for the patient. If I end up actually donating, I can elect to release my information to the patient, but NMDP will only release it one year after the donation.
Another common question is, “is this for someone you know?” No, this is for a complete stranger and I’m fine with that. At a very young age, my mom showed me the Donor sticker on her driver’s license. She maintains to this day that if something happens to her, make sure to donate everything because what’s she going to use it for? Although far less drastic, I’m pleased that I am able to have the same attitude when asked for some of my “parts.” What do I need the extra marrow for? I can make some more.
I really do hope that I am a match and if I’m not, that there was another person on the list that is a better match than I. I was thinking about whoever this boy is today and remembered the pile of origami paper that I keep on my desk at work. I’ve been folding cranes since I was a kid and I am only a couple hundred away from hitting 1000. This one is for the patient, wherever he is. I’ll try and remember to stop for a couple of minutes during my day so I can get closer to my goal. I’ll keep thinking about him.
To get more information on the program, visit www.BeTheMatch.org
Next Week: The Blood Test.
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