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October 13 - Marrow Donor Day. Good comes back - everyone has a chance to give some of the good from themselves that has befallen him/her in life. DKMS Foundation gives you the opportunity to help the one and only unique person. This person could be anywhere. He or she may live on a neighboring street or on the other side of the globe. He/she may be similar to you in appearance or character, but you may also have many differences. The most important thing is that you are connected by genes. There are no borders in helping.

In Poland, only 5.6% of more than 37.9 million people are registered as potential donors. Change that with us! Karol, an employee of our company, bone marrow and Honorary Blood Donor will tell you about the whole process.

What is being a marrow donor all about? How to become a marrow donor and who can be one?

Being a Marrow Donor is about donating a part of yourself. On donating hematopoietic stem cells. To begin with, you need to register in the DKMS database. At the time of signing up for the donor database, you are not sure if they will call you at all. The probability is 1: 20,000, and in the case of a rare genotype as high as 1 in several million. "Genetic twin" is a person whose HLA tissue compatibility antigens are the same as our own. To date, 10,000 people in Poland have donated marrow. This is still far too few. In 75% of cases an unrelated donor is needed. Then the search for a compatible donor in domestic and foreign registries begins. That is why it is so difficult.

The more people registered as potential donors, the greater the chance of finding a person whose tissue compatibility will allow transplantation.

Why did you decide to become a bone marrow donor?

One manager from the hall told us that a girl, who is living next to us, needs bone marrow, she suffers from blood cancer. Our manager explained to us that in order to help.  The first step is signing up for the DKMS donor database. i registered right away. Since i had the chance to do it, why not. They take a swab to check your matching blood types, if donors and patients are matched by their HLA type.  Once they do, you become a potential Donor.

How do you recall your first phone call from the DKMS Foundation?

I waited almost 2 years for the information that i had become a donor. During that time i forgot that i had signed up for the donor base at all. Until i received the phone call. It happened when i was with my wife on vacation in the mountains. i received a phone call from the coordinator of the campaign from the Foundation. The first question i heard was whether i was still interested in donating bone marrow. The second question was what method of bone marrow donation i would choose and the time when i could donate. i agreed without hesitation to proceed with this procedure. i worked out further details with the coordinator.

It is a nice feeling to know that somewhere on the globe my genetic twin exists. Suddenly you get a phone call and know that you can help. Realistically help with something more than donating a monetary amount, which not everything can buy. Of course, I'd rather not get a phone call, because it means that someone is in a serious condition, BUT there is this satisfaction that the patient has a chance of survival just because of you.

Is it possible to know your bone marrow donor?

I only received information that it is a middle-aged patient coming from the United States. Donors don’t have the opportunity to meet the Recipient. It is kept secret. However, there is a possibility to get to know the person, but only if the other person would like to meet you. i used to wonder who and what this person is. If i had the opportunity to meet her/him, i would be happy to do so.

What is the process of bone marrow donation like? How long does it take to get the bone marrow?

The 1st step is the moment of registration, which i mentioned earlier. You exist in the database of potential donors and you have to wait. You may wait a few months, you may wait a few years or you may never even be approached by the Foundation. It's not like with blood that you have several types. Here it is much harder to find a Donor, because the donated marrow has to be compatible with your genes and the Recipient's.

The 2nd step is to draw blood at the location closest to Donator. They test for contraindications. Certain conditions are excluded such as cancer, infectious diseases (HIV, HTLV), hepatitis B, C virus, autoimmune diseases, endocrine diseases, nervous system diseases and several others, a list of which you can easily find on the Internet. 

The 3th stage is to do more specific tests, for example, ultrasound, X-ray, but this is already at the site designated by the Foundation coordinator.

The 4th stage is the collection of stem cells or bone marrow.

The 5th stage is to examine you. They continue to monitor your health condition afterwards. Then after six months you also have a check-up of your blood and your body. The foundation additionally monitors the donor's health for 10 years after the donation.

What are the methods of bone marrow collection?

There are 2 methods.

  • The first method, the collection of stem cells from peripheral blood involves the collection of a specific individual blood component from whole blood. Peripheral blood stem cell  donation is done through a process called apheresis, which is similar to donating plasma. During apheresis, a needle will be placed into each of your arms. Blood will be removed from a vein in one arm and passed through tubing into a blood cell separator machine. The machine collects blood-forming cells, platelets and some white blood cells. Plasma and red blood cells are returned to your body through the other arm. All the tubing used in the machine is sterile and is used only once for your donation. All the time you are under the care of a nurse. In my case, the treatment lasted about 4-5 hours. i could then do everything. i mean activities that do not interfere with the collection. For example, you can: read books, watch movies, listen to music.
  • The second method, the collection of bone marrow from the puncture of the hip plate is done in the operating room. The procedure itself is nothing scary, it takes about an hour. Doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. Then 1-1.5 liters of a mixture of bone marrow and blood are taken from the bone. Afterwards, you may only feel a gentle prick at the site of the extraction. The patient then stays under observation in the hospital for 2-3 days. 

Did you feel any physical, mental symptoms after the bone marrow donation?

After the draw blood cells, i went to the hotel to sleep for two hours, because i felt fatigue afterwards. i then still waited for a phone call from the Foundation as to whether the marrow i donated was sufficient in volume for the person in need. In case of insufficient volume, i would have to stay another day and donate the marrow again. When i returned home, i still needed a while to recuperate.

Speaking of regeneration, the donated cells regenerate within 2-3 weeks.

It's not a set amount that you donate in advance?

The nurse i spoke to told me that this is determined by the person individually. Everybody is different.

How did you prepare for the bone marrow donation? Do you have to avoid any foods or supplement?

Starting from the end of the question - it doesn't make any difference what you eat. Only after the draw cell blood can you have a loss of iron.

To answer the 1st question: when the stage 2 tests was passed, i had to take growth factors twice a day in the form of subcutaneous injections 4 days before the intake and on the day of the stem cell collection, whose job is to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream (most of the marrow is in the femur, pelvic bone and spine. It is also in the sternum, ribs and even in the bones of the skull). A person has about 2.5 to 4 kilograms of bone marrow in his body.

At first i was apprehensive about the injections, however, it turned out to be very simple and relatively painless. While receiving the injections, i had flu-like symptoms. i started receiving the injections on Wednesday. The worst was on Friday and Saturday, then i wasn’t able to go to work. i had a lot of pain in my bones and in my spine. And on Monday i already went normally in the morning to Warsaw to donate blood-forming stem cells.

The collection point is set in advance by the Foundation in cities such as Warsaw, Gdansk, Gliwice, Krakow, Poznan and Wroclaw. There is no need to worry, the cost of travel and accommodation is refunded by the Foundation. They also provide food. So honestly, all you are donating is a part of yourself and the time you spend on examinations and stem cell collection.

Were you afraid to donate marrow at first time?

No. i have a neighbor who used to be a Donor. As a result, i had a little idea of how it goes. So even if a person is apprehensive, doesn't know what it looks like - they can find information on the Internet. Always a person from the Foundation during the conversation will guide the person and answer any questions or concerns. In Poland, more than 10,000 people have donated to date. Nevertheless, not many people donate marrow, i will emphasize once again.

Maybe this is due to people's lack of knowledge or some fear of donating marrow.

I also used to associate bone marrow donation with a needle landing in my back with tremendous pain, not getting out of bed for a few days, staying in the hospital after the procedure. But it's not scary at all. It's just an irrational fear in the mind due to our unawareness. And a lot of people need our help. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as with blood, of which you have several groups and you can actually help right away. There is this emergency help.

How else can you help others?

There are different types of donation. You can donate whole blood (450 ml of blood), you can donate blood plasma or platelets.

You may tell your family and friends about bone marrow donation and encourage them to register with the database.

You can also organize a Marrow Donor Day in your area.

I didn't realize that it takes so much time and is so difficult. Not every patient can wait 2 years or even longer until a donor is found. Still, it's worth helping, because somewhere on the globe there is a person waiting for a chance to help just THAT ONE person at least. The more people who register, the more chances that more people will be saved.

Sure, that's why i encourage everyone to give themselves and others a chance.

Find more answers here on the DKMS Foundation website:
Also read the myths about bone marrow donation. You may find the reason why YOU are afraid to become a marrow donor.