How to Become an Unrelated Donor
Bone marrow and stem cells have the power to heal many forms of cancer and other diseases. Unfortunately, not every patient who needs a bone marrow transplant has a family member who qualifies as a donor or is a "match." Often, these patients must depend on those who have volunteered to donate their bone marrow or stem cells.
If you are interested in being a bone marrow donor, we suggest you visit the Web site for the National Marrow Donor Program, which coordinates thousands of bone marrow transplants each year. This site provides addresses of local donor centers as well as other useful information. In Chicago, the local donor center is Lifesource. They can be reached at (847) 298-9660.
Information for international donors can be obtained from Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide, which has information on 51 bone marrow donor registries from 37 countries and 28 cord blood registries from 18 countries.
Donating Bone Marrow: The Procedure
At the donor center, a representative will talk to you about the bone marrow donation process. After you give consent to be listed in the registry, a blood sample will be taken. This blood sample is used to test your tissue or HLA type.
If someone who needs a transplant is the same HLA type as you, you will be contacted. If you are contacted, you will be asked to donate additional blood for more testing. The second tests are more accurate and confirm that you have the same tissue type as the patient who needs a bone marrow transplant. At this stage you will be seen by a center where bone marrow harvests are performed. A harvest is the process by which the bone marrow is removed from the donor. Here you will have a physical examination as well as a blood test to make sure you are healthy. If everything goes well, you will be asked to donate your bone marrow or stem cells. The bone marrow harvest is performed in an accredited hospital. In the hospital you will have a general anesthetic, and bone marrow will be drawn from the back of your hips using a special needle and syringe. Most patients go home the same day unless they are slow to recover from the anesthesia, in which case they go home the following morning.
After going home you can return to normal activity. Your bone marrow and blood counts will return to normal within a week or two. Most people feel a bit bruised over the back of the hips for a week or two after the procedure, although usually the discomfort is mild. Being a bone marrow donor is usually a major milestone in a person’s life. Most donors say they feel proud to have helped give someone a second chance at life.
Learn more about bone marrow and stem cell treatment at the home page for the Bone Marrow Transplant Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.