Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Today from noon to 7:00 pm in Parrish Parlors, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) will be running a bone marrow donor registration drive. In a little under half an hour, those interested will be able to sign up to be placed in the Bone Marrow Registry as potential donors for patients suffering from diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, or other blood diseases. The opportunity is especially unique as all donation fees are being waived by the NMDP for these volunteers.
The process is comprised of filling out a health questionnaire and taking a mouth swab, to analyze a potential donor’s tissue type. Given the hereditary nature of tissue types, ethnic groups including those identifying as Black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian, or Pacific Island Native, Hispanic or Latino are strongly encouraged to donate as they are generally underrepresented in the registry.
It was this need that especially moved Laura Wolk ’09, one of the principal organizers of the Marrow Registry on campus. Wolk explains how she came to the conclusion that Swarthmore should have a bone marrow registry drive, “The reason why I wanted to do it was because my brother had leukemia three years ago… that’s when I learned about the huge inequities as far as race goes in finding a match. It’s really incredibly unfair to me. Nobody’s life is worth more than anybody else’s.”
The last registry drive at Swarthmore was held two years ago. Wolk and co-organizer Martha Marrazza ’09 have been organizing this registry for several months, having made arrangements for funding the event over the summer, and contacting Maurice Eldridge and Myrt Westphal to get them interested in the project. Wolk adds, “We recruited a core group of people who were interested in the logistics in November. We definitely could not have done anything without them.”
Donors on the registry are considered volunteers, they are not legally bound to donate and will only be asked in the event that a match in type is made. In this event, they will be contacted and then given both a physical examination and the opportunity to learn more about the procedure and circumstances of donation before making a decision regarding donation. Says Wolk, “It’s amazing to me how they take care of their donors.”
Martha Marrazza addressed the concern that the health information recorded might be used for purposes beyond the registry. “Privacy is really important. You’re recorded as a number by the NMDP so they don’t use your information. If you were a recipient you wouldn’t even be able to find out who the person is who’s donating to you unless you go through a lot of hoops.”
Those who do agree to donate generally do so through one of two methods. The most commonly used method is an outpatient procedure in which marrow is extracted from the pelvic bone. The donor will generally feel sore for the next few days. The newer method is the PBSC donation, in which the donor receives daily doses of filgrastem for five days prior to the procedure in order to increase their blood-forming cell count. Some blood is then removed at an apheresis center. The side effects felt are generally due to the filgrastem, causing some achiness prior to the procedure. Both methods include a follow up and all procedural costs, including transportation, are covered by the NMDP.
“About 33,000 people are affected by this every year and that’s just the patients and not including their families,” reflects Wolk. Marrazza echoes this sentiment. “The few objections that anyone might have, be it pain or anything else, pale in comparison with the fact that your marrow can save a life. Something that takes you less than a day in an outpatient procedure can literally add years to a person’s life.”
It should be noted that restrictions are considerably less than those required for giving blood. There are no restrictions based on country or travel, piercings, or most medications. Restrictions do apply to individuals with chronic back pain, scoliosis, HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis B or C, history of heart attack, active tuberculosis, or having had an organ or tissue transplant. Donors must be between 18 and 60 years of age, and with a BMI under 40 (the BMI mark for obesity).