The following article is not a travelogue as usual. But it has a character of solidarity and humanity to our fellow human beings who are in need. The purpose of this article is to sensitize as many people as possible to become bone marrow donor. Every year, hundreds of people in our country are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases. Some of these are leukemia or lymphomas and other haematological diseases. In the above cases the hematopoietic cell transplant is the best or the only treatment that will save their life.
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Become a Volunteer Bone Marrow/ Hematopoietic Cell Donor
As we will analyze below, there is no side effect on the donor, no impact and no financial burden. The donor has the right to cancel his / her participation for the donation if he / she feels that he / she is not ready for it. However, once the transplant is finalized and the patient’s preparatory chemotherapy is started, it is an irreversible point and puts the patient’s life in immediate danger. It is also important that the donor is aware and absolutely confident in their choice. The reason, obviously, is because it’s about a person’s life. They who have doubts or were registered under pressure must realize that they are giving false hopes to those in dire need.
Finding a compatible bone marrow donor
Whether it is someone in your family who needs the transplant, or someone you know, or even someone unknown to you, their life definitely depends on it. And more specifically, the initial search for a compatible donor starts from the family environment and specifically from the siblings. The chances for siblings are 30%, and much fewer for the rest of the family and relatives.
If no donor is found in the family, then the search for unrelated donors begins. The chances of unrelated tissue similarity are extremely low. About 1 in 20,000 – 1 in 1,000,000. We need many to increase the chances of each patient finding the donor who will give them life. Worldwide, more than 50,000 patients each year, adults and children, are looking for a compatible volunteer donor.
What is bone marrow and what does bone marrow donation mean?
It is the tissue found mainly in the bones of the pelvis and sternum. It has nothing to do with the spinal cord. Bone marrow is the source of blood production and the body’s immune system. Their transplant means replacing the “sick” immune system with a healthy one. By donating our own healthy blood (hematopoietic stem cells), we offer the patient a new life.
Why become a bone marrow donor?
It is important to have many bone marrow donors from the same country due to similarities between compatriots. There is a greater chance for example, for a patient of Greek descent to find a compatible donor in the Greek donor pool. Statistically, a country with about 10,000,000 compatriots (like Greece) could ensure a 60% to 80% chance of finding a compatible donor for a patient in its own pool if it had about 200,000 registered volunteer donors. For this reason it is crucial to increase the number of volunteer donors around the world.
However, we must know that many of our fellow human beings live in anxiety as to whether a compatible donor will be found, who will save their lives. More specifically, every 4 minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. Especially in childhood, leukemia is the most common cancer. Also, 3 in 10 will find a compatible donor from their family, while the lives of the other 7 depend on voluntary donors. By registering as a volunteer, you can also find yourself compatible with a patient abroad.
Who can be registered?
Those aged 18 to 45, in good health and willing to help any patient in need of a transplant, can become volunteer donors. Voluntary bone marrow donors, however, must meet certain medical criteria in order to protect the patient. More specifically, volunteers suffering from chronic diseases, contagious diseases, autoimmune diseases and some other diseases can not become donors.
How can I become a donor?
The procedure is very easy, takes less than half an hour and is obviously painless. All you have to do is enter your details in the Volunteer Donor Bank. This can be done either by visiting a qualified donor center or at a blood donor gathering. It is even possible from the convenience of your own home.
The donor center will notify the interested party and a smear is taken orally (sample of saliva with a swab). If you wish to do this from your home, the donor registration application is completed electronically on the donor center’s website. Within a short time the center will send the interested party an envelope. Inside the envelope is the registration application, instructions on how to collect the mouthwash (saliva), as well as the necessary materials to collect the sample and return it by post.
For applications and information see here.
What if a volunteer donor is found to be compatible?
Once a volunteer donor is found compatible with the patient they are first asked to confirm his or her original intention in donating hematopoietic cells. They will then be called for information and additional laboratory testing to confirm compatibility. Once histocompatibility is certified, the volunteer donor undergoes a full medical examination at least three weeks prior to transplant collection to confirm his or her good health.
Regarding the process of receiving a transplant, there are 2 ways to collect a transplant from the donor.
The most common is the collection of hematopoietic cells from the peripheral blood. This method is the most modern and is chosen by doctors in 80% of cases. Initially, the donor is given subcutaneous growth factor (a substance that is normally produced by our body) for four consecutive days. This results in an increase and mobilization of hematopoietic stem cells in the bloodstream.
In continuation, the procedure is similar to that used in platelet donation. It is done in a special machine where the donor’s blood enters, collects the hematopoietic stem cells and returns the rest of the blood elements to the donor. The procedure lasts 2-4 hours, is painless and after giving blood, the donor continues their day normally. There may be minor discomforts such as headaches and bone and muscle aches due to the growth factor, but they go away with common painkillers.
An alternative procedure is to collect cells directly from the bone marrow (marrow transplant). This is done in the case of baby / infant transplants, because the cells taken are better tolerated by young patients than the cells taken from the blood (peripheral graft). The donor is placed under general anesthesia so that it does not hurt. The marrow is removed by puncturing the pelvic bones with special needles and does not include a surgical incision.
The process takes less than an hour. The donor can leave the hospital a few hours after the procedure, and the majority immediately feel quite well. The little discomfort the donor might feel is nothing compared to the pain that patients and their families experience. In addition, it should be noted that whatever hematopoietic cells they collect from the marrow or blood, are replaced by marrow reserves and the donor is not at risk of marrow failure. The annoyance that the donor may feel afterwards is negligible in the face of the fact that he or she has saved a life. Both procedures are painless, with just a little discomfort, which goes away after a few days.
Donor and patient communication
Acquaintance between patients and volunteer donors is not appropriate, but they can communicate anonymously and they can communicate over a span of 2 years. Greeting cards, anonymous letters without revealing personal details and gifts such as teddy bears for young children are some of their means of communication. The reasons for anonymity are for the protection of patients, as various cases of blackmail have been observed.
Letter from Christina, (translated in English)
Beloved donor, I do not know your name (yet). However, I’m Alive! Yes Alive!
1 year, 5 months, 4 days, and a million moments I am living! And as long as I live I will thank you for every moment that I enjoy with my children, with my friends, with my entire family; for enjoying the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, the twittering of the birds, the caressing of the breeze, all the love that I am receiving.
Beloved blood brother/sister, you are the first to receive my gratitude in my prayers, the first one I will light a candle for. You are my small God. The one who gave me the chance to live, who held the keys to my life. Thank you for using them. Thank you for not letting me leave in that boat!!!
The role of the bone marrow donor who literally saves lives is very important. It is also important for everyone to understand that anyone can find themselves in this difficult situation at any time, desperately expecting some help from their fellow human beings. In life, disease does not discriminate, especially at a young age, where the greatest drama unfolds.