Sunday, 11 January 2009
Bone Marrow Part 4: The Follow-Up
How far would you be willing to go to save a life? Because to be honest, it is something you might have the opportunity to do with very little time or discomfort to yourself. I am talking about donating stem cells or bone marrow through the new Canadian One Match Network. Back in the summer of 2007 I had the opportunity to donate through the then Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry (UBMDR) which has now been rebranded as One Match. That experience was chronicled in a three part series for Imprint, and this is now an update.
By following a few simple and easy steps your type can be catalogued, A. B, AB, and O). Your blood has certain characteristics that they are looking to match so that you could be a possible donor. The characteristics are called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) - they are DNA markers. These antigens are found on the surface of the white blood cells. Now some antigens are more common in specific ethnic groups so it is important to have as many people in the registry as possible. One of the reasons for the rebranding of the registry from UBMDR to One Match is a focus on the need for more ethnic representation on the registry. The registry is also eager to attract young donors because generally they are in good health, and are associated with better long-term survival rates for recipients and they can stay on the registry for a longer length of time. You can only join the registry if you are between 17-50 years of age. You can donate up to the age of 60.
You should consider joining the registry because each year hundreds of Canadians are in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, which for many of these patients, is their only hope for recovery from illness. You might be able to help! What does it take for you to help? All it will take is a bit of your time. Call 1-800-2-DONATE or go to www.onematch.ca and a new testing procedure that only requires a mouth swab, will be sent to you with return postage, and you could join the registry. That, combined with a willingness to donate either bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells, and you might have the chance to save a life. Currently there are about 220,000 Canadians who have made this commitment, and over 11 million people worldwide are on the registries.
A year after my donation I had the opportunity to exchange emails with the recipient. Here is some of what Guy had to say.
How long were you on the registry waiting for a match?
Six to 10 months.
How long between when you had a match and the procedure took place?
I had to go through five chemotherapy treatments before thinking about transplant. Then, I was in remission for 18 months. When cancer came back, in March 2007 I had another treatment to stop the progression and a last one, just before the transplant, in May 2007, to kill my bone marrow.
How has receiving the stem cells affected your life?
For about one year I had many physical restrictions because I did not have an immune system. For example: when I wanted to go to the grocery I had to wear a special mask to protect myself and wash my hands as soon as I came home. I also had many restrictions regarding food. I was in danger because my immune system was really low.
Emotionally speaking, it was hard because the doctors gave me a 65% possibility of failure, meaning death and only a 35% chance of getting through. My girlfriend and I decided to focus on the meaning of the gesture of receiving a new life instead of the possibility of losing it. We cried, we laughed, we hugged and then I had to take a nap because I was drained.
What did the preparation and procedure entail?
Like I said before, they have to kill my own bone marrow before giving me somebody else's. The whole procedure took around 60 days, hospitalized with no immune system and the danger of many infections and complications.
Are you willing to share what condition you had that required this procedure?
In March 2005 I was diagnosed with a severe Myeloïde Leucemia. ( I am not sure of the English term. Acute Myeloid Leukemia.)
Do you know anyone currently waiting for a match?
No, but I knew a 24 years old guy who passed away waiting for one.
As can be seen from this brief conversation in translation, for a mere few hours prep and a few days discomfort you can have the opportunity to change a life forever, and not only the life of the recipient but also of their friends and family. So while you are here at the University of Waterloo consider joining the network, even if you never have a match, being willing to makes you a hero.
(First Published in Imprint 2009-01-09.)
Note: This is a continuation of a three part series from last year.
Part 1 - There's more than blood in you to give
Part 2 - The Callback
Part 3- The Donation
Part 4- The Followup