Sunday, April 07, 2013

You must be young to be a bone marrow donor

Did you know that if you're older than 60, docs don't want your bone marrow?

I found that out by perusing the web site for the Be the Match Registry at the National Bone Marrow Program. Transplant doctors are thrilled to work with your bone marrow if you're from 18-44. They might use your precious bodily fluids if you're from 45-60. Over 60? Forget it.

I understand the reasoning.
The age guidelines are in place to protect donors and provide the best treatment for patients:
  • Donor safety: As one ages, the chances of a hidden medical problem that donation could bring out increases, placing older donors at increased risk of complications. Since there is no direct benefit to the donor when they donate, for safety reasons we have set age 60 as the upper limit. It is important to note that the age limit is not meant to discriminate in any way.
  • To provide the best treatment for the patient: Research shows that cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants.

My 60-year-old brother Dan needs bone marrow. He was diagnosed with leukemia in December after checking into the hospital for a routine gall bladder surgery. His blood counts were abnormal. His doctors performed additional tests and discovered the leukemia. He underwent treatment at his local hospital in Florida, and then transferred to M.D. Anderson in Houston, well-known for its extraordinary care and facilities.

My brothers and sisters submitted samples to test their compatibility for donations. I wasn't involved because I had a heart attack during Christmas season. Heart disease and age ruled me out. Never have I felt so old or so left out.  

My sister Mary was a perfect match. She is the youngest of nine children, younger than me by 15 years. Not in the 18-44 range, but close. Family matches are preferred because it cuts down on rejection by the body to the new, implanted cells.

While Mary was going through the usual battery of donor tests at M.D. Anderson, cancer was discovered. Now she's going through treatments while my brother Dan is going through his last batch of chemo to prepare him for a bone marrow transplant from someone other than Mary.

So, if you have ever thought about being a bone marrow donor, go to the Be the Match Registry and request a donor kit. All it takes is a cheek swab or blood sample to be tissue-matched. The next step, donating your marrow, is not painless. But the life you save may be that of your brother or sister. Or someone else's brother or sister.

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