I recently donated peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) to a middle-aged man with myelodysplastic syndrome. This is similar medically to a bone marrow donation (though less painful) and much more involved than a blood donation (which I have done regularly since I was seventeen). I found the whole process fascinating and a testament to the glory of man’s mind and modern civilization.
The patient with myelodysplastic syndrome lives in central Europe. His body’s bone marrow was no longer producing healthy functioning blood cells—that is, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets—a deficiency that could have resulted in his body’s loss of ability to fight infections or control bleeding, and possibly leukemia. The cure for his disease involved destroying his defective natural bone marrow and replacing it with someone else’s—mine.
Bone marrow compatibility between donor and recipient is more complicated than blood types. He needed a donor whose human leukocyte antigen (HLA) proteins most closely matched his own in order to minimize the chance of graft-versus-host disease. His doctors found my data in the Be the Match Registry, where I’m registered as a potential donor, and they judged my HLA proteins to be his best hope.
Eight weeks before the operation would take place, I was notified by phone about the match and the donation process. I was then asked whether I was willing to donate. I said yes (and was given several opportunities later to change my mind). In the following weeks, I provided two sets of blood samples to verify that I was healthy enough to donate and still a good match. I was flown out to the donation facility in Michigan to be examined physically, preview the process, and speak with the doctors and nurses who would collect the donation. My donor representative called me periodically to keep me informed and to verify my continuing consent. She also made the arrangements for collecting the samples, managed my travels, and ensured that my expenses were covered. . . .
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1. “Bone Marrow–NOTA Challenge,” Institute for Justice, http://ij.org/case/bonemarrow/.
2. “Coalition Says PBSC Donor Compensation Poses Health Risks to Patients and Donors,” Be the Match, February 2, 2012, https://bethematch.org/news/news-releases/coalition-says-pbsc-donor-compensation-poses-health-risks-to-patients-and-donors/.