O hai, NMDB! (Becoming a PBSC donor)

6 Oct

I am a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donor (-to be). I’m writing this blog because I was helped greatly by reading others’ donation experiences when I found out that I was a potential donor, and I’d like to explain the experience to other potential donors and friends/family/people wondering whether they should join the registry.

Okay, background: 

A few years ago, I decided to sign up with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), also known as the Be The Match registry, at a drive going on at my college. This entailed writing down some basic personal information and getting a quick cheek swab, and I did it with little consideration that I might actually be called upon to donate bone marrow at some point. This is not what you (or I) might call the right way to decide to be a potential donor (you know, the carefully considered way) but sometimes we just do good things because they seem good.

A couple months ago, i.e. years after I joined the registry, i.e. when I had totally forgotten I was on the registry, I got a call from the NMDP letting me know that I was a potential match for a patient, and would I be prepared to complete a 15 minute phone survey about my health, followed by secondary testing to see if I was the best possible match. At this point I experienced a little adrenaline storm inside, mumbled something about can I have a day or two, and hung up the phone. I mean, they wanted to take things out of me, and put them in some other person. Fortunately, adrenaline wears off, and I called back after the weekend to confirm that I was ready to do whatever extra testing they needed. I was ready to maybe help save someone. After answering a few questions to make sure I wasn’t infected with something awful, I was all set up to do a blood draw at a lab nearby. This went about like any ordinary doctor’s appointment, and then it was time to wait. My contact at the NMDP (who, I might mention, was the same person every time I was called, was completely understanding of my apprehension, and carefully explained every step of the process to me) said it could be as long as two months before they chose the best-matched donor, and the patient was ready to move forward. Almost exactly two months after my blood testing, I learned that they had chosen me.

So now: 

My recipient (about whom I am only allowed to know age, sex, and disease) has a type of leukemia, and the best kind of treatment for her is a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) transplant. PBSCs are stem cells from your bone marrow that are floating around in your bloodstream. These stem cells become white blood cells, and in a patient with leukemia, they become cancerous and stop functioning properly, so they must be killed and replaced with healthy cells. A bone marrow transplant collects healthy bone marrow (containing stem cells) from a donor through a needle inserted into the pelvic bone, and puts it into a patient whose own marrow stem cells have been killed off, so she can again generate healthy white blood cells. A PBSC transplant instead involves boosting the number of those stem cells floating around in the donor’s blood with a drug called Neupogen, then filtering them out with a machine to collect them for transplant. PBSC donation is less invasive and doesn’t require general anesthesia.

This week I had an EKG, a chest x-ray and another blood draw (for various tests) to make sure I’m fit to do the PBSC donation. It seems that I’ve passed, so I’m scheduled to start my Neupogen injections (one for each of the four days before donation, and one day-of) on October 14th, and donate on October 18th. Even though the idea of spending time in a hospital is a little strange, I’m mostly just excited to get to help someone fight such a terrible disease. I know that I was only chosen to donate because I have an HLA type (a compatibility factor) similar to my recipient’s, but I feel blessed (and I do not use that word often) to have this opportunity.

Coming soon:

I’ll explain a little bit more about how the actual PBSC collection works when I get closer to doing it, and hopefully snag a picture of the machine they use on me (called an apheresis machine). In the meantime, I’ll be updating once I start my Neupogen injections to record any side effects I experience (typical ones are supposed to be bone soreness, headache, and nausea, but different people experience them differently or not at all), and my general feelings about the donation. See you on the 14th!

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2 Responses to “O hai, NMDB! (Becoming a PBSC donor)”

  1. Abbie October 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Hey,
    I just want to say that I feel really blessed (a word I dont use often either) to have been able to facilitate your donation. you are the second person I got to register who has received “the call”(though the first from that drive) and the first person was not the final match. I want to thank you for your selflessness and I hope that It remains a positive experience.

    Love,
    Abbie

    • peripheralblog October 24, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      Thanks Abbie! It has definitely been a positive experience so far, and I’m so glad you gave me the chance to do it by signing me up with the registry. That drive was really the only time I ever crossed paths with Be The Match, so you’re as responsible for giving my recipient hope as I am! I hope I can pass it forward and get others to sign up too.

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