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So, back in my 2012 catch up post, I quickly glanced over a big thing I did back around Thanksgiving.  I donated bone marrow - or more accurately, PBSC - Peripheral Blood Stem Cells to a leukemia patient who needed a transplant.  I originally got registered with the National Bone Marrow Registry almost 10 years ago through a drive that I helped organize through NBCU’s Asian Pacific American Forum.  We were trying to raise awareness and get people on the registry for a specific little boy who was in desperate need of a transplant. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a match during our drive and I really don’t know the details of what happened with him.  But out of that, we did register a couple hundred people at 30 Rockefeller Center, and I, being one of them.

I was contacted via email by a DKMS - America representative.  (DKMS stands for something in German since it was originally established by a German woman who’s mother was dying of leukemia). At first, I just ignored the email… it’s one of those things you forget you did and then you are needed and you just freak out! They sent a few emails and I kept meaning to respond, but I didn’t. Then, a couple weeks later, I got a call from my father saying they had contacted him looking for me. At this point, I figured this was serious and maybe I should call them.  So I did and went through a lot of internal soul searching and researching to understand exactly what they were asking of me.  Funny, 10yrs ago, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I could possibly be a match and what that really meant. Now, with 3 kids and not working, I really didn’t have an excuse not to see what I could do.  After extensive blood testing and learning about the process, I was told I was the best match and to make a final decision if I wanted to proceed. Throughout the whole process, I was always told I had the option to back out any time if I felt uncomfortable, but they were very helpful in helping me understand the process.

My biggest worry was the pain - you always hear about the horrific giant needle they stick in your hip to draw out the marrow and how painful it is during and after. What you don’t hear is that now, the majority of the time, they don’t need to do that, instead, they boost up your immune system to create excess stem cells that are the building blocks of marrow and harvest that via the blood stream in a much less painful way. Luckily, my recipient could use this PBSC method (of course, some other patients may need the more traditional method).

So, everyone asks, what was the process? Here goes:

1) Get the call and talk to the people

2) Fill out a ton of paperwork

3) Go to your local lab and get 5 vials of blood drawn (I think)

4) Get told you are a very good match

5) Go get a full blown physical at the hospital they tell you (only specific hospitals are used by them) - this process was 3 hrs long - fill out more paperwork, wait, meet w/a dr, wait, fill out more paperwork, get 20 vials of blood drawn (YES, 20, maybe more… make sure you eat), wait, go visit the lab the donation/harvest will take place and fill out more paperwork.

6) Once everything has been approved and you are cleared, you get a donation date.

7) You get 5 vials of Neupogen sent to your house and 4 days before the donation date, either go to a medical center to have a dr. inject you the first time or a home nurse, depending on specific protocol.

8 ) The next  3 days, either continue to go to that medical center or have the home nurse come each day to inject you (they have to fill out paperwork and take vitals, etc and make sure you don’t have any allergic reactions)

- The Neupogen is a very strong intramuscular drug that is injected into your arm/leg/butt/stomach that causes your body to create the stem cells which make the bone marrow. The increased levels of stem cells and white blood cells is what they want but it makes your body think it is sick so you actually feel sick, tired, etc.  I felt pretty ok. The shot itself kind of hurts and stings as it goes in but it’s only like 10 seconds. Nothing compared to child birth!

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9) On the 5th day (donation day), you go to the hospital early in the morning and get monitored and prepared. You get 2 needles in 1 arm and 1 in the other arm. 1 IV is for saline or calcium or both, etc that your body needs during the process. The other is where the needle that will extract your blood. The blood gets extracted and goes into a machine (kind of like dialysis) where the machine then spins the blood around and separates the red blood cells, the white blood cells, the stem cells and plasma, then puts the red blood cells back into the other arm and into your body. You are hooked up to this machine for 4-8+ hrs depending on how many stem cells they need (depends on the recipient - luckily mine must have been a pretty small woman). You just lay there watching TV, internet, books, magazines, talk to your companion that has joined you, etc.

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10) Once they get close to the amount they need, they check it and then unhook you and that’s it. You’re on your way back home or to a hotel to rest.  They put us up in a hotel nearby and we went and had dinner at Red Lobster and watched a movie.  The next morning, I took a car home and James was taken in to work.

We had really great doctors and nurses at the blood bank at Stonybrook Hospital. I want to thank the men and women there that really do this all the time and make this possible.

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They were able to fly my mom in to babysit the kids but they cover everything from babysitter fees, flying in a friend (if you don’t have someone local) and all travel and accommodations.  My mom came out the week during my injections in case I was weak and couldn’t drive or deal with the kids and stayed during my donation and a couple days after until I was sure I was fine. Really, I felt fine the next day.

Now, it has been almost 8 months and I recently got an update from DKMS that my recipient is doing well, is still alive and recovering and getting back to a normal life! I did receive a letter from her a few months back thanking me for helping her. The crazy part is, it was in another language! and yes, they flew my stem cells all the way to a different continent. - for privacy reasons, I don’t want to specify the country - there are lots of rules about what you can and cannot say, even though I don’t really know much.

So, now, I can say that no matter what I have or will do in my life, I can always say I made a big difference in 1 person/family’s life and I actually SAVED a life.  It was scary at first but I’m glad I did it. The biggest driving factor was thinking this could happen to anyone of my friends or family and I would hope that if someone I loved, or myself, needs this one day, there will be someone out there willing to take the time and effort to do this. It’s really easy, pretty painless and not that time consuming. Now, I will be helping DKMS, though it has rebranded itself as DeleteBloodCancer.org, as best I can to help organize drives and just talk with prospective donors to help them understand the process.

I hope I’ve opened some of your minds out there and you too can get on the National Bone Marrow Registry - it is worldwide… go to www.deletebloodcancer.org or www.getswabbed.org.

 ** Disclaimer: everything written above is from my own experience and spotty memory.  It may not all be 100% accurate but you get the gist. Make sure to go to one of the websites above to get more information.