You could be someone’s 1 in 100 000 when you become a bone marrow donor

A South African donor goes through the process of donating his bone marrow to an anonymous patient in need. Photo: SABMR

 

Some blood diseases such as leukaemia, bone marrow failure or sickle-cell anaemia need to be treated with a bone marrow transplant. Why not consider becoming a bone marrow donor and allowing your stem cells to help someone in need?

The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR), the only internationally-recognised registry in the country and a member of the World Marrow Donor Association, is always looking for more donors. The chances of finding a marrow match are about one in 100 000, and because many of the markers are actually inherited, people from a range of ethnicities and races are encouraged to register.

“People between the ages of 18 and 45 are eligible to become potential donors with the registry,” said Nadia Chalkley, a donor recruitment officer for the registry.

“There are about 72 000 donors currently in South Africa and through its international partnerships, SABMR has access to over 32 million donors worldwide and the organisation works with 75 international registries as well.”

Although donating is a worthy cause, potential donors are urged to consider the matter carefully before they commit. They must be in good health, weigh over 50kg, cannot have a blood disorder of their own and must meet other medical criteria (available on the SABMR website).

Although donors can ask to be removed from the registry at any time, it is important to note that once you are chosen to be a donor for a patient in need and change your mind, it can have severe consequences for the patient.

If you meet the criteria and are willing, the process of donation is as follows:

• Either a sample of your blood or a buccal swab is taken and sent to a laboratory to identify your tissue type. The results will be placed on both the South African and international registry.

• If your tissue type is identified as a possible match with a patient in need, you will be asked to undergo further blood tests to confirm the match.

• If the match is confirmed, you are able to go ahead with the donation as long as a doctor says you are healthy enough. You will need to go to a specialist collection centre in the country.

• You will need to undergo daily growth hormone injections for five days to stimulate stem cell production. This may cause some pain and flu-like symptoms in the donor.

• After five days of the injections, you will be connected to a ‘cell separator’ machine, which will draw blood from you into the machine, extracts the necessary cells from your blood, and then return the blood back to your body. This will need to be done two days in a row, each time lasting between four to six hours. Following the procedure, you may feel tired for a few days.

“You will then receive aftercare and have a yearly check-in [with SABMR], and you and the patient will not be able to communicate for about three years after the transplant.”

Chalkley concluded that currently, the registry was looking for a match for an international patient of mixed German and Zimbabwean heritage, and donors matching that are encouraged to register, although all ethnicities are welcome.

To find out more or to become a donor visit www.sabmr.co.za

  AUTHOR
Robyn Kirk
Journalist

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