Monday, June 4, 2012

Sunday is for Saving Life

Yesterday my wife and I didn't attend a worship service. Instead we enjoyed one of the best Sunday mornings we've experienced in a while. We spent our morning and part of our afternoon volunteering at a drive to register potential bone marrow donors with the national marrow donor program Be the Match. Our inspiration to help with this comes from a wonderful 19-year-old woman we know named Delia. You can read about her in this article and also in this one with a nice video clip about our drive.. Delia suffers from a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia. Effectively it has wiped out her body's ability to produce blood cells and defend itself from any illness or infection. Currently she must have two blood transfusions a week just to stay alive. Her only long-term hope is for a bone marrow transplant. Without it her prognosis for long-term survival is quite poor. 

Because she has a mixed Hispanic/Nordic background, she needs a rare donor to match her well. Unfortunately, as we learned yesterday, Hispanics, Blacks and Asians are seriously underrepresented in the donor registry. Our small team set out yesterday to rectify that imbalance as much as we could.  Our team set up in the entry way to a Catholic church with a significant proportion of Hispanic members. Another team set up simultaneously in one of Tucson's central parks. Given Tucson's summer heat, our team figured we got the easier assignment, but both teams gave freely of their time and energy not only to help Delia but also potentially many others across the country. At the end of the day, our group at the Catholic church had registered 98 new donors (including my wife and I), while those at the park had reached 116. While our team was disappointed that the other group had “out-donored” us, both groups were thrilled to add this many more names to the registry.

There's always room for more names. The registration process is quite easy. It involves filling out a short registration form and collecting four swab samples from one's inner cheeks, using a sample kit that the organization provides. You can request a registration kit through the organization's website at any time.

We also learned that donating bone marrow has become quite different than many of us perceive it. In only a minority of situations, about 33% nationwide and dropping, does donation involve a surgical extraction of marrow from the hip. In the majority of cases it is down through a process very similar to platelet donation. Even more exciting is the growing use of stem cells from umbilical cords. These cells, harvested from the umbilical cords that remain after women give birth, can match virtually any patient and offer amazing possibilities for treating diseases that require bone marrow transplants. Until the time that all those needing bone marrow transplants can receive treatment this way though there is a need for adult donors (you must be between 18 and 60 to register).

So what are you waiting for? If you're not already registered, request a registration kit today at You may be the one who gives life to another. I can't imagine anything more satisfying than that.

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