SWAB A CHEEK, SAVE A LIFEc/o Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation Development Office 800 Yamato Road, Suite #101 Boca Raton, Florida 33431 Phone: 561.982.2919 Email:
Every year, thousands are stricken with leukemia and other blood-related diseases. In the past, such a diagnosis was often lethal. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments could often induce a remission, but rarely offer a cure. Today, transplantation of healthy stem cells donated by related and unrelated volunteers, offers hope to many patients suffering from these deadly diseases. Advances in transplantation have made this procedure a reality for thousands who are alive today because a stranger gave them the gift of life.
It is indeed a tragedy that so many patients who could benefit from this life-saving procedure can not be treated. In order to have a transplant, there must be a donor: a volunteer who shares a tissue type similar to the patient. For many, finding a match is no easy task.
It may be as little as a few months, or as much as five or even ten years after being tested before you receive that special call to help save a life. In fact, you may never be called as a suitably matched donor for a patient! The only way you will ever know if you can help save a life is by taking the first step to be tested! Perhaps one day you might be given the opportunity to participate in a true miracle. What greater gift can one human being give to another than the Gift of Life?
Swab a Cheek, Save a Life is a recruitment group for the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. The Gift of Life donor file is searched by transplant center coordinators and foreign donor registries worldwide. This is performed on behalf of patients in need of suitably matched stem cell donors. If your Human Leukocyte Antigen Tissue Type (which equates to your genetic fingerprint) matches that of a patient, a donor center coordinator will contact you and ask if you are willing to proceed with additional blood tests. If you are indeed a match, you will be counseled on the process involved in donating stem cells by a donor advocate, consult with a physician at the collection center, receive a complete health history, physical exam and laboratory tests to determine if you are eligible.
ETHNICITY AND TISSUE TYPE
Tissue type is inherited, like eye or hair color. A patient's best chance of finding a genetic match is someone who shares the same ethnic and geographic ancestry.
WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Stem cells produce the major components of the blood. They are found predominantly in the bone marrow, a substance found in the hollow cavities of the body's large bones. Stem Cells can be collected from two potential sources: bone marrow and peripheral blood. Cancer patients suffering from a wide variety of diseases, such as leukemia, aplastic anemia, lymphoma and certain immune disorders, can benefit from stem cell transplantation.
DESCRIPTION OF DONATION OPTIONS
Bone Marrow: Marrow is found in the hollow cavities of the body's large bones. Donation involves withdrawing 2-3 percent of the donor's total marrow from the iliac crest of the hip, posterior aspect of the donor's pelvic bone. There is no cutting or stitching. The procedure involves a needle aspiration, performed using an anesthetic. Typically, the donor enters a medical center’s outpatient facility in the morning and goes home in the afternoon!
Blood Stem Cells: It is now possible to collect stem cells from the peripheral blood rather than the bone marrow. In order to collect a sufficient quantity of stem cells, injections of a medication called filgrastim must be administered. This mobilizes stem cells to travel from the bone marrow into the circulating blood. The stem cells are collected through a procedure called apheresis, which is similar to the process used in platelet donation. A cell separating machine filters out the stem cells, which can them be infused in the recipient.
MARROW VS. BLOOD STEM CELLS
Please bear in mind that it is the transplant physicians who choose the stem cell source, not the registry. Donors requested for blood stem cell collection will be counseled on the entire process at an information session. With proper guidance, the ultimate decision to donate is up to the donor. If a donor declines to donate blood stem cells, he or she may also be offered the opportunity to donate bone marrow.
Donating stem cells is a significant commitment, and we want all volunteers to be well educated. If identified as a match, each donor is counseled on the risks and benefits of donation at an information session, and receives a comprehensive physical exam. The donor bears no costs associated with the procedure or associated tests.
Stem cell donation is a voluntary process. Prospective donors are never under pressure to register. In fact, we ask that you take some time to consider your commitment in order to avoid giving false hope to patients in need. For the patient, there is no turning back once the pre-transplant treatment begins. Without the donors healthy stem cells, the patient would die. Thus, it is crucial that the donor be committed to participate once the intent to donate is given.
Several days prior to the donor's stem cell collection, the patient begins pre-transplant conditioning usually consisting of radiation and chemotherapy. This process eradicates the patients diseased immune system, and the patient is kept in protective isolation to prevent infection. The donor's stem cells are given intravenously to the recipient. The stem cells migrate through the circulatory system to the hollow cavities of the bones. If all goes well, the stem cells engraft within a few weeks and begin to manufacture healthy blood cells, giving the patient a second chance – the gift of life! If both donor and recipient agree (this must be a mutual agreement), they may be able to meet one year after the transplant, although this is depends upon laws in foreign countries.
The recuperation process is lengthy, but the patient has been given a second chance at a full life thanks to the kindness of a stranger – and that someone may be YOU!
THE NEXT STEP
Swab a Cheek, Save a Life considers donor education a high priority. Many donors agree to be tested without considering their commitment carefully. In order to avoid giving false hopes to a patient needing a stem cell transplant, we ask that you give this decision your complete attention. Then, if you wish to join Swab a Cheek, Save a Life/Gift of Life, you can register online or attend a community recruitment drive.