Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bone marrow drives

Came across Bone Marrow donation for the first time on a Shelfari discussion post. The post was about inviting people to test for Bone Marrow tissue match for a seven year old Russian girl. Digging into the concepts further, I am now aware about how Bone Marrow donation works, and how it is helpful for a patient suffering from Leukemia. I am a registered donor on the National Marrow Donor Program.

From a donor's perspective, it is a very simple procedure. After filling up a few forms (no, nothing about giving up my first born in those forms), I was asked to take four swabs of Q-tips and rub them against my cheek from inside my mouth on the four sides of my teeth - right upper, right lower, left upper & left lower. After I had rubbed each of them for about 10 seconds the volunteer took the swabs from me and placed them in a cover with my name on it. These swabs would be used to determine the type of my bone marrow tissue DNA.

It is quite unlikely that my tissue would be a match for this Russian Girl. Tissue types are inherited, and hence patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Very frequently it is likely there is a match within the family.

If a patient is a match for my bone marrow tissue, and is in an urgent need for these Cells, I will be informed and requested to donate bone marrow tissue. The donation process could be in two ways:
  1. In an operating room under general anesthesia, some of the bone marrow will be removed from the top of the hip bone, Or
  2. Bone marrow stem cells will be made to move into the blood circulation through special medication (usually administered as daily injections over 3-4 days) and then these stem cells will be taken from the blood-stream.
I would probably prefer the second alternative! Don't want anybody to be cutting me up...

While a patient with Blood Cancer undergoes chemotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells, they also lose the healthy bone marrow tissue which is required to generate new blood cells. Bone Marrow Donation helps the patients to regain the lost tissue in a couple of weeks after the transplant procedure is done.

Got to know about there being a deficiency of donors of various racial/ethnic backgrounds. There are stories on the web about patients from India/South Asia finding it difficult to find a matching donor. The stories of Pia Awal, Vinay, Raji Balachandran, Sonia Kumar, Gayatri Ramesh, Savita, and many other Indian / South Asian Cancer patients & the efforts from their friends and family to get a matching bone marrow donor for them should make it for an increased awareness among the people from the sub-continent, and help in more people being saved.

In the coming months/years, I hope to see more such bone marrow drive events happening in the sub-continent.

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