The NMDP (National Marrow Donor Program) is a computerized database of tissue-typed potential volunteer donors nationwide. When a patient needing a bone marrow transplant cannot find a suitable match in his or her family, the Registry is searched for an unrelated compatible donor. The Registry gets used far more than you might think because 70% of all patients do not match within their own families. A match is a one-in-a-million chance for life for a patient.
Bone marrow transplants are unique among transplant operations. Most transplants (like heart or liver transplants that you hear about in the media) are from donors who are about to die (usually because of a severe trauma such as an auto accident), but have perfectly good hearts, livers, etc. Bone marrow transplants are different. One or two cups of bone marrow (marrow is a liquid found in the center of every bone in the body) are drawn through a needle from the donor's hip and then transfused to the patient.
Like blood donation, bone marrow donation does not permanently deplete the body's supply of bone marrow. The body replaces the donated bone marrow in about two months. The patient gets a fresh chance at life. Although it is highly unusual to match more than once (if ever -- many registrants never match) during a lifetime, the body can donate bone marrow repeatedly with no ill effects.
If you have ethnic minority blood (even if you're not full-blooded), please consider taking part in NMDP. Even if you are fish-belly-white-my-family-came-from-Europe-so-I-don't-even-tan, please think about registering -- we need you, too. If you have friends with ethnic blood (especially Asian/Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Hispanics), tell them about the desperate need for minority bone marrow. Bone marrow donors do not need to be blood donors, although it is certainly encouraged.
For someone with leukemia or a similar disease, such as certain types of lymphoma, a bone marrow transplant may be their last hope for life. Bone marrow transplants require a near-perfect HLA (tissue type) match between donor and recipient. Seventy percent of the time, that perfect match does not exist within the patient's family. As I mentioned, HLA types follow ethnic boundaries, Native Americans have a better chance for a match with Native Americans, etc.
Even allowing for minority status, ethnic minorities are grossly under-represented in the National Marrow Donor Program. This means that minority patients are dying because they cannot find a match. Only 4% of the more that one million volunteers in the NMDP are Asian/Pacific Islanders. A similarly low percentage are Hispanic. Only 5% of them are African-Americans. The numbers are even worse for Native Americans (1%) and other ethnic minorities.
Taking part in NMDP is easy and almost painless. First, you fill out a form. Then, the Red Cross will take a small sample of your blood and HLA type it. Then, you and your HLA type are entered into a national database. Then you wait. From then on, whenever you move, just update your address and phone number so they can always find you.
Registering in the NMDP does not obligate you to donate. All it does is say that, "Yes, I will consider donating if I ever match with someone." Actual bone marrow donation does not harm the donor, but it is a very personal decision. The cost of the donation is taken care of by the recipient, so it does not cost you any money. Donation does cause some inconvenience and some pain, but both of those go away after a week or so. Most importantly, bone marrow transplants are truly lifesaving operations.
Call 1-800-MARROW-2 (1-800-627-7692) or submit this online request for more information.
Page created 10/15/95.
© 1995-2004 by Michael Heggen. All rights reserved, except as noted.