It is amazing to witness the growth and maturation of a child to adulthood. I have had the privilege of watching a little guy I have known since his birth grow up into a fine young man.
Not long ago he was smashing baseballs off of the side of my house. Now he has graduated from the Pittsburg State University School of Nursing. This gives me great personal pride although I have had nothing to do with the development of his character or his wicked sense of humor. He is the son of one of my closest and oldest friends. He has bestowed countless acts of kindness upon my own children who think he is great. They are about to find out just how great.
This week he will donate stem cells to help a complete stranger conquer cancer. The stranger has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and needed a perfect donor blood match. Connor is that match.
Stem cell transplants, what do you know? T or F?
1. About 50 percent of folks match with a family member.
2. About 10 percent of the population are registered donors.
3. 1 in 500 people will need a stem cell transplant.
Bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation are procedures that restore stem cells. Most often these transplants help patients with leukemia and lymphoma whose own ability to make healthy blood cells have been altered from disease, chemotherapy and radiation.
According to the National Cancer Institute, only about 30 percent of those needing a transplant successfully match with a family member. That leaves others looking to the general population for help. Only about 2 percent of the population are registered donors. This makes finding a match very difficult. We need more donors.
The screening process to become a donor begins with a simple cheek swab. This provides information about cell type that scientists then match with a list of potential recipients. If there is a promising match, the potential donor undergoes a litany of blood tests and confirmation that she/he is physically and psychologically ready to donate.
The next step is the donation. This can come from bone marrow or peripheral blood. Both bone marrow transplantation and peripheral stem cell transplantation provide the recipient with needed blood stem cells.
In BMT, the donor is anesthetized and a needle is placed into the marrow of the pelvis bone for extraction of stem blood cells. In PBSCT, the donor receives injections of a medication that helps the body make more blood cells. This begins a few days before blood is harvested. At the time of harvest, the donor provides blood intravenously, just like a regular blood donation. In both cases, the recipient receives the blood through an IV.
Have you ever had a spur of the moment experience that changed your life? An unexpected, not-on-the-task-list episode? Connor was having lunch with a friend between classes. His friend was going to a donor screening and Connor tagged along. The rest is history.
I am proud of Connor for many reasons but mostly for his generous spirit and big heart. His generosity is now being bestowed upon someone he has never met and likely never will.
To learn more about how you can be a volunteer stem cell donor, contact Be The Match at www.bethematch.org and 1-800-627-7692.
Together, we can all make history.
Answers: 1. F, 2. F, 3. T.
Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.