A bone marrow transplant (BMT) donor recently posted on the Facebook page dedicated to the rare blood disorder our daughter had. He’d never learned what happened to his recipient, and he was looking for information. Thanking him on behalf of those anonymous parents made me cry.
When someone gets to the point they need a BMT, it’s generally their last shot. It’s a Hail Mary treatment carrying significant risks. Basically, doctors pump poison (chemo) into your body over a series of weeks through IV’s. The poison wipes out your immune system so your body will accept someone else’s healthy immune system via their bone marrow. The actual transplant itself is an anticlimactic process: just one more transfusion no different than the countless others you’ve had by then. But that’s the easy part.
The hard part is surviving the significant risks your poisoned, weakened body now faces. Your complete lack of (read zero) an immune system makes the smallest infection life-threatening. And unless the donor is a 10/10 match, there’s significant risk of rejection. That, too, can be fatal. Plus not all transplants “take”. It’s not uncommon to need a second transplant, and it’s not unprecedented to have a third. And all of this is only possible if your underlying disease, by definition a killer itself, lets you remain strong enough to attempt the transplant in the first place. Before this terrible treatment option even became an option in the last few decades, generally the only other alternative was to die.
Back to that donor who reached out. He didn’t have it completely easy either. The donor has more pain than their recipient, generally a soreness in their hip (the donation site) for a couple of days. They will miss up to a week of work, for up-front testing and then for the procedure itself. And the process has to be at least a little emotional, as you wonder how your recipient is doing until many months later when information can finally be exchanged, but only if both parties are willing. All of that said, I told the guy the truth: that what he did was an amazing thing, even if he doesn’t get a happy ending. Because even if it’s not, he likely gave some kid’s parents the peace of knowing that their child had every chance to live, and of knowing that there are good, caring people out there willing to go through a week of personal hassle to give their kid that shot.
If you’re under the age of 50 (60 in some cases) and in good health, please consider registering to be a bone marrow donor. It’s simple and literally painless. Simply answer some basic medical questions and swab the inside of your mouth. And you’re even more needed if you’re not Caucasian. While white Americans have a 97% chance of finding a donor in the registry, the odds of not finding a match are 1 in 5 if you’re Hispanic; 1 in 4 if you’re Asian or American Indian; and a staggering 1 in 3 if you’re African American. Mixed race patients can have an even more difficult time finding a match. Will you consider taking a few minutes TODAY to go online and sign up? You, too, could give someone hope. You could save a life!