About eight years ago, my sister and I heard about the National Marrow Donor Program and decided to sign up to be potential donors. The process to sign up was really easy. You fill out a form online and they sent you some cotton swabs for you to collect your DNA with. Back then you had to pay a fee for processing, but now it seems you only pay that fee if you are over age 45. After you received your packet in the mail, you just take the swab and rub it on the inside of your cheek, put it back in the envelope and mail it back. Easy peasy!
Then you wait……. Many people on the registry will never get called as a match for someone in need. I, on the other hand, got called up about a year later. There are several stages to actually being the match for someone. If you get that initial call, you go through a more extensive screening process including a health check up, like a physical. Next you go through some blood testing. These steps are all to make sure that you are the right person for the donation. You are able to back out at any time, but you shouldn’t. You can save someone’s life! 🙂
The actual donation procedure has gotten much easier over the years. Often, a nonsurgical procedure called PBSC donation is done. All it takes is some injections to make your blood better and then you are hooked up to a machine to donate cells ….. kind of like donating platelets. You can watch a video here
Of course, I never do anything the easy way, so I ended up donating the old-fashioned way. I have had a lot of surgeries in my life, so it wasn’t scary for me. I knew what to expect, and I’m used to everyone seeing me in a hospital gown! (Seksy, I know.) A week or two before my donation date, I went and donated blood to be available for use during my donation, just in case. What’s great is that if you don’t need to use your blood for your surgery, it can be used for another person in need.
For the actual donation, I had an outpatient procedure where I went to a hospital in the morning and was back home in a few hours. The event itself can be a little intimidating. It takes place in a freezing cold operating room (always that way for germs to not grow or die, I think). You sit on one of those skinny operating tables, which I never understand. I mean, thankfully I am pretty thin, but this is America! Most people are chunka wunkas! Once everything is checked, they have you sit on the edge of the bed and they give you an epidural like you’re about to give birth. Then they quickly have you lay back down so that you don’t go numb and they would have to lift you up like a dead whale. Once you are lying down, they hook up an IV to your arm for fluids and also in case you need a blood transfusion (I didn’t).
Side story: when the anesthesiologist attempted to hook up my IV, he forgot to attach the tubing to the needle so blood just poured out of my hand. He was so upset by the whole thing, and I had to talk him down. It really wasn’t a big deal for me – hey, I had my back up blood anyway! – they just had a bit of clean up to do before starting!
Whenever I have surgery, I always ask that they wait until I’m asleep before putting my other arm out on the T frame. I always feel weird having to sleep with both arms out like I’m Jesus on the cross! Everyone has always accommodated me without any complaints. For this procedure, they only put me in a twilight anesthesia because they were concerned of my bad lung history (story for another post). I don’t remember a thing though so it was no big deal.
When I woke up in the recovery room, I was achy but fine. The only issue I had was that I really wanted to go to the bathroom and insisted I was fine to get up and go. The nurse finally relented and agreed to take me, but as soon as I stood up, I started to pass out. Oops! I hate when I’m wrong! After another 30 minutes or so of resting with my feet up, I was good to go. My blood pressure had just dropped as is usual for me, unfortunately.
For the next few days, I had a sore back but it was less pain than my worse back ache and no big deal. I have bulging discs so when they act up, it’s never fun. I think that my pain might have been a bit worse than others because for my procedure, they had to take marrow out of both of my hips for some reason…..usually it’s just one. After the procedure, I had small holes where they put the needle in. They left tiny scars which I liked seeing since they were proof of my donation……..I wonder if they are still there……
When you donate, you have the option of writing a letter to the recipient. I did, but I never heard back. I always wonder if the woman survived after the procedure. They told me it was a woman in Long Island in her 30s or 40s, I think. Because I never heard from her, I feel like she passed away; however, I do kind of hope that she is just a person who didn’t know how to write a letter to say thank you. Either way, I am happy that I know I tried to save a person’s life, and I would do it again if I came up as another match for someone else.
Seriously consider joining the registry. So many people only think of joining when someone they know is in need. If you or someone you know were in need, wouldn’t you want everyone in the world to be available to help save that life?
I signed up with Aimee for the bone marrow registry but have not been a match for someone. However, a friend’s cousin is alive today because someone else, a stranger to her at the time of the donation, was willing to be a donor. Read her story here: http://breakthroughs.cityofhope.org/cancer-diagnosis-advice-christine-pechera/2649/