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Bone Marrow Donation - Are You Registered

Updated on September 10, 2011

This article is about bone marrow donation. I've always told others that I talk with - regarding writing online - that the one subject I wouldn't touch (for money) is cancer. But earlier this week I received the news that my brother-in-law and long time friend Steven has got CLL - or to give it it's correct name Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

Of course it was unwelcome news. Shocking if I'm honest. No doubt not even close to how Steven and my sister Annabel felt. So instead of talking about cancer - because that's been done to bloody death (pardon the pun) - I'd rather write about donating bone marrow.

That's one of the harsher sides of contracting leukemia - knowing that there's a potential cure yet also knowing that the likelihood of locating a bone marrow match is pretty slim. And that because there are too few donors and too many sufferers.

My family - Steven is the one looking at the camera. My sister in the background, in front of one of my sons.
My family - Steven is the one looking at the camera. My sister in the background, in front of one of my sons.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia - the dark cells are the CLL cells.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia - the dark cells are the CLL cells. | Source

Bone Marrow Register

I know what I now know due to the various bone marrow registers and hunting through the facts and figures. Luckily my sister is also a state registered nurse and from Steven's perspective she'll understand better what's coming, the treatments he's likely to undergo and so on.

Roughly speaking there are over 15 million donors currently registered world wide. Narrowing it down country by country isn't easy, the stats are confusing at best. What is easier is to present it like this:

  • around 30% that need a bone marrow transplant are lucky enough that they have a relative match within their family group
  • that leaves 70% hoping that one can be found on a bone marrow register
  • Those that are of a Jewish, Asian, African, Latin or Chinese descent have even less chance of finding a donor match
  • Donors (generally) need to be under 60 years of age - this relates to the need for registering and keeping potential bone marrow donors on file for as long as possible and the cost of testing the donor
  • the saddest stats of all are these: there simply aren't enough bone marrow donors registered around the world to cope with the amount of people that require a donation

Back to the 15 million or so registered donors - here's the really frightening figure:

  • this is how many people there are globally: the current world population is 6,896,656,884

I'd say that there's room for more of us to get ourselves registered. Of the 6 billion or so people, many will be too old or too young. Others will be ill or unable to donate simply because something in their physical makeup prevents them from doing so.

Others will be in situations too horrible to contemplate - helping others will be impossible as they may well be unable to help themselves. And yet that still leaves a whole lot of very healthy people.

The test is a simple mouth swab or blood test.
The test is a simple mouth swab or blood test. | Source

Bone Marrow Test

So the question is: what is a bone marrow test for a potential donor and what does it entail? In the US it is usually done by taking a swab from the inside of the mouth - the inner cheek. In the UK it can be done by way of a simple blood test. Many of those that donate blood can be tested without having to set up a special appointment.

The other form of bone marrow test is the one performed on the patient - prior to diagnosis. This is usually performed by way of what's known as a bone marrow aspiration. It's a procedure that involves having some bone marrow fluid removed via the insertion of a needle into the bone, usually around the side/rear hip area.

It's performed using a local anesthetic and though it's an uncomfortable experience it's not wholly painful. Steven had his last Monday and said that whilst it wasn't particularly pleasant - it wasn't as bad as he'd expected.

Bone marrow aspiration performed with local aneasthetic.
Bone marrow aspiration performed with local aneasthetic. | Source
Removing bone marrow from a donor - done under aneasthetic.
Removing bone marrow from a donor - done under aneasthetic. | Source

Bone Marrow Donation Procedure

The bone marrow donation procedure is a little more invasive than the test. It requires your attendance at a local medical center or hospital. The more common method is to take bone marrow from your blood whilst it circulates.

It may sound a little frightening but that may stem from a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding of what the actual procedure requires of the donor. It involves you needing to be injected with a drug that stimulates stem cell production (in your blood) for a period of four days prior to the donation. The injections can be uncomfortable, much like a tetanus, no more, no less, and then you're tested on day 5 re how many stem cells you're producing.

If you're producing enough cells you're then hooked up to a cell separator machine. Again this may seem a little scary. You have what amounts to a drip inserted in both arms, which are then connected up to the cell separator. As your blood circulates around your body it passes through the machine, which separates the stem cells.

Your blood travels out and through the machine from one arm, and returns through the other. It takes several hours and most people experience tiredness and some tingling around the chest/upper body region. The first few days after the donation you can also feel tired and sore around the site of the injections.

Most people are fully recovered within two weeks of donating. The second method is almost the same as a bone marrow aspiration, which is mentioned above in the testing section. You will have it done under either a local or general anaesthetic, so despite the fact that you will be uncomfortable post-procedure, it's an otherwise pain free experience.

Once again you will be sore around the site of the donation but otherwise you will be completely fine.

Isolation During BMT

Bone Marrow Transplant

The bone marrow transplant is performed under hospital conditions. It's an arduous journey for the recipient. Prior to receiving their transplant they first need to have all their bone marrow destroyed, either through chemotherapy, radiation treatment or a combination of the two.

It's not the nicest of experiences but a necessary one. During the whole time - prepping the patient for the transplant, receiving the transplant plus the initial recovery, which can take around 8 weeks - it all takes place withing the confines of a hospital, almost all of it in isolation.

Once the patient begins the treatment that destroys their bone marrow they're isolated due to the need to keep them in a sterile environment. Having no bone marrow leaves you open to infections, common ones that can and do kill.

For many if not all, this is the hardest part. At a time when you need support, affection, a hug, you're separated from everyone that you know and love. There is a way around it: everyone must take steps to guard against infection and wear sterile clothing etc but contact is still kept to an absolute minimum.

Once the bone marrow has been destroyed the donation can begin, which done by way of a drip transfusion. The new bone marrow is infused into the recipient, and it then naturally distributes around their system.

Over the course of several weeks it builds and grows and hopefully replaces what's been destroyed, only this time it's healthy and free of anything deadly. If the donation is successful, the recipient will eventually get to go home to continue their recovery in more familiar surroundings.

It can take up to a year to feel fully recovered, and that's providing that the bone marrow is not rejected, which can happen in some cases. This is why it's imperative that all those that need a transplant receive the best possible match.

Around 35% of those that do get a match find it comes from a sibling, whilst the rest must seek one via the various bone marrow registers that are located around the world.

Become A Bone Marrow Donor - Be The Match

From the research that I have done this last week - there's nothing quite like becoming a bone marrow donor, nothing like finding that you're a match for someone you may never meet. Of all the many stories and personal accounts that I have read, every one said almost the same.

They were scared, worried, unsure, confused, concerned, so many things. When it comes to saving a life, it is a big deal and not a decision that you should or even can take lightly. The thought of hospitals, needles and medical procedures is frightening.

But every single account (and I've read dozens and dozens) all said the same: once they'd donated, once they heard the good news they were elated, pleased, relieved, happy, deeply touched, all the emotions that make life worth living.

I don't know if you've ever considered registering, I don't know if you already are. I wasn't registered before and now I will be. I suppose it takes something terrible to touch your life to make you sit up and realise what others may be going through.

Providing I'm passed I will have my details added to the 15 million or so that are already registered. I doubt I will become a match for Steven as I have a little too much Oriental blood running through me but, if I was, I'd donate in a hot second.

However my name may well come up for someone else and if that becomes the case I'd do the same for them, I'd donate in a hot second. I can see where my family are going to go with this and I don't like the destination. I now realise that many other families are going through the same.

I hope that those who read this don't find it to be anything other than what it is, which is an article relating to the raising of awareness for bone marrow donation. I can't think of a better gift than the gift of life.


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    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hey Iain - that's fantastic news! All being well you will be a match and the resulting transplant will be the sucess it needs to be. My fingers are crossed - and thank you for stopping by and sharing your news :)

    • iain-mars profile image


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      I registered for the British Bone Marrow Register when I started donating blood about 10 years ago. I recently received a letter from them saying I had been selected as a potential match for someone. I have to wait 8 weeks for the tissue tests to come back until I find out if my marrow is a good enough match for the recipient.

    • conradofontanilla profile image


      7 years ago from Philippines

      It's great to be able to extend somebody else's life. I am concerned with how to prevent the need for BMT. I see it as the control of free radicals.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Wow Eric, that's awesome news! I truly hope that you guys match and that your help makes the change your potential recipient so badly needs.

      Thank you so much :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I registered over a year ago and just received the call last week that I'm a possible match. I just went in for confirmatory typing bloodwork on Monday and now the wait begins to see if I am a suitable match for this person...

      The waiting is hard but I am hopeful it works out. I can not say enough how EASY it is to register and the interactions with DKMS (the organization that contacted me) have been so professional!

      Hoping your family finds a match and wishing you good luck in helping get the word out!

    • crystolite profile image


      8 years ago from Houston TX

      Good work.Never know that there is something like bone marrow registration and donor.Happy for been informed through your article.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks for reading CASE1WORKER and I'm sure if you could you would :)

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      8 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      awesome hub- wish my health allowed me to register

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Sandy - that's just awesome, thank you so much! It is easy ... but a big decision.

    • Sandyksk profile image

      Sandy Jauregui 

      8 years ago from Sanger

      I didn't realize how easy it was...thank you for such a great hub...and letting so many know how important and easy it is to get registered. I did it! :)

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      nflagator - thank you - that's awesome!

    • nflagator profile image


      8 years ago from North Florida

      I've been registered as an organ donor for many years. Never thought about bone marrow. Will do it!

      Will send out the info on my FB and include the info about donations for umbilical cords too!

      Great Hub.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thankyou Surale :)

    • surale profile image


      8 years ago from pakistan

      good work great job.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      accofranco - thankyou very much :)

    • accofranco profile image


      8 years ago from L Island

      thanks for sharing this, i bet, it must have inspired the kind in heart...God bless you and may you flourish more in your writing career always!

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Kimberly - at least you're willing if you didn't have Hep C - and that's a good thing. Thanks for at least saying you would if you could :)

      yenajeon - that's awesome. You're on the register, you're one of the 15 million. It's good to hear that you're willing - just waiting :)

    • yenajeon profile image

      Yena Williams 

      8 years ago from California

      I actually did register in college! I have however, never gotten a call that I am going to be needed!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey girl, I feel so stupid when this never even crossed my mind. Unless you know the answer and I fear I do, I was registered for past decade to donate every inch of me where it could help or further educate people [cause besides who wouldn't want a part of me, I mean com'on] anyways I was devastated when I contracted Hep C, a blood disease in late stages 2 years ago from IV drug use years prior-it can sit dormant 10 years ???? WTF? I was crushed, nothing, not even my hair, ever, despite treatments, uncool.

      So I suspect they can't drain my disease for bone marrow. But clearly understand I will be inquiring. I just wondered if you knew that god willing something was different.

      What a fabulous hub from a big hearted woman. But girl, I'd be scared to get anything from you, I mean what If I turned green and had Hep C, what would be, suppose the front page I see *sigh*

      love ya

      drop it like its hot


    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you Hello, hello. Just truing to raise some awareness of what bone marrow donation is and how it works. It's really not that scary :)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for a great hub and information.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Oh wow Sue - I am so damn touched that you had this in mind and have now gone and registered! You are one more - that's awesome! There are so many of us that could register - and donating bone marrow is a big deal, that's for sure but ... it's nowhere near what facing blood disorders and blood cancers must be like.

      I am already overwhelmed at the fact that you've already saved a life. For once I'm kinda lost for words.

      Thankyou - very much :):)

    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 

      8 years ago from Indiana

      I just finished signing up! It took less than 10 minutes. They'll send me a kit. I swab my cheek and send it back.

      How easy is that!?!


    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 

      8 years ago from Indiana

      I was just thinking the other day that I needed to find out how to get placed on the list for bone marrow donor! I'm going to check out these links for sure!

      I agree with you that things like this seem scarier than they actually are. A few years ago, I donated a kidney to my kid. I was up and around within a couple of days, and taking care of her! Within 2 weeks I was back to my normal self... and that was an organ! I'm thinking bone marrow would be next to nothing... and to think it could save a life!

      Count me in!!

      Thank you so much for this hub! I will share on facebook, and encourage others to pass it along as well.

      It is a sad thing to think of all the people who's lives are cut short because of the fear of those who could easily save them!

      Our family will be thinking of Steven and your whole family during this time. I've seen the process first hand of someone going through the chemo preparing for a transplant... it's beyond rough...and that's if a donor is found! My heart goes out to you all!

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hey - I hope the same. Let's hope Steven and all the others that need a bone marrow donation find their match :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Im already a bone marrow donator. I really hope I match Steven.


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