The benefits of becoming a bone marrow donor are immense when considering this is a life-saving procedure for many patients awaiting a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, there are far too many people dying while waiting for a suitable donor to be found. This is especially true for people of Hispanic and African-American descent. Just as the country has blood donor drives, there are now recruit a bone marrow donor drives too.
The procedure used most often now is called a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) draw. It involves blood withdrawn from one arm where a machine separates the blood-forming cells and the remaining blood is returned to the donor in the opposite arm. If the doctor chooses the PBSC donation, it is done in two steps: a drug called filgrastim is given to the donor through injections, which increase the number of blood-forming cells that will be able to be removed. On the fifth day of injections, the donor then goes through the donation of blood cells.
During the period that the donor is receiving the filgrastim, they may experience headaches, muscle aches or bone pain. Other side effects include tiredness, nausea and trouble sleeping. This may last for a few days after the donation
During the actual donation, they may experience tingling in the mouth, toes and fingers due to a blood thinner used during the removal of the blood cells. This is easily treated during the procedure by giving calcium to the donor or slowing down the procedure itself. A lower blood platelet count, which is less common, may cause lightheadedness and/or nausea. Serious side effects happen in less than one percent of donors. If central lines need to be placed in a larger vein such as the subclavian vein or internal jugular vein, the risk is minimal for complications.
If the surgeon decides to remove marrow from the bone, they will make four small incisions over the rear of the pelvic bone and a needle that is hollow with a syringe attached will be inserted to collect the donation. This is normally done under a general anesthesia. The side effects usually include fatigue, lower back pain, some stiffness when walking and possible bleeding at the site of collection.
Anytime anesthesia is used, there is a small risk, less than one and a half percent, who experience serious complications to the anesthesia. Other serious complications include damage to the bone, nerve or muscle at the site of collection. Common side effects from anesthesia usually include headache and low blood pressure after the procedure. Almost all donors will feel weak for a few days, but are able to return to a normal routine in just a few days and full recovery is within four to six weeks.
Considering the side effects listed, it is important that all cities highlight recruit a bone marrow donor drive several times a year. This is just but a small price to pay for giving someone else a second chance at living.
You can register and become a bone marrow donor here: