Donors give more than blood

First bone marrow drive held at Portland State

If you’ve never considered donating bone marrow because of the painful extraction procedure, think again.

First bone marrow drive held at Portland State

If you’ve never considered donating bone marrow because of the painful extraction procedure, think again.

Portland State held its first bone marrow registration drive on Wednesday, and organizers used the event as a way to spread the word that registering for the donor system and donating, if called, is usually a lot like giving blood.

“An important thing for [prospective donors] to know is that there are a lot of myths out there about donation,” said Magda Silva, of the Portland chapter of Be The Match, who helped organize the event. “They should brush up on what’s real and what’s a myth because that might change their mind about being a donor.”

PSU’s Center for Student Health and Counseling worked with Be The Match to get 108 donors registered.

Nicole Khal, a PSU student who has seen the need for bone marrow transplants up close, is a big part of why the drive was brought to PSU this year.

Khal’s mother was diagnosed with a myeloproliferative neoplasm two years ago; each year she goes to the Mayo Clinic to get bone marrow biopsies done.

While preparing to go with her mother this past year, Khal began thinking about ways people could learn about being a donor.

Tired of relying on Facebook and Twitter to get the word out, Khal decided to call the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; she was then set up with Silva. With the help of Gwyn Ashcom from SHAC, they worked to make Wednesday’s drive happen.

Silva, who is senior account executive of the Northwest District chapter of Be The Match, said that, at any given time, there are 6,000 patients in need of a bone marrow match.

Patients are able to use a sibling’s or parent’s marrow 30 percent of the time, but otherwise rely completely on Be The Match to find a compatible donor.

With 9.5 million people already in the register, the organization is doing well, but donors are always needed. When drives are held, anyone is welcome to register as long as they fit the age and health requirements.

Occasionally, Be The Match will hold patient-specific drives, requesting registers of a certain ethnicity. But even then, no one is turned away.

Khal and Silva both explained the importance that people understand that registering and donating are simple. All that is required is filling out paperwork and going through four cheek swabs. The swabs are then processed, and DNA is put into the registry for future use.

If a donor is called, there are two ways they could be asked to donate marrow. Most commonly, the donation is done through a nonsurgical procedure called peripheral blood stem cell donation. Khal describes it as being similar to donating blood or plasma, where the stem cells are taken out and the blood then put back in.

The other type of donation is marrow donation, which Silva said is requested about 25 percent of the time.

Marrow is withdrawn through a needle inserted in the back of the donor’s pelvic bone, and the donor receives an anesthetic.

Regardless of how it is done, donation is fairly painless and requires little recovery time.

Silva said that a lot of people are surprised to find out that most of the donations require little more than giving blood. But, unlike giving blood, one does not need to donate every couple of months.

“It’s very rare to be called,” Silva said. “With us, if they get called even once in their life, they could consider themselves lucky.”

Khal said she is extremely thankful to everyone who showed up at the drive on Wednesday to register.

They plan to hold another drive in the spring, and Khal hopes to make it a bigger event. She hopes to have music and entertainment to make people want to come learn about donating bone marrow.

“I wanted to do this in honor of my mother, and my uncle, and my cousin who passed away of lymphoma,” Khal said. “I hope that people will come in and understand how critical the need is for people to be in the registry, in case they are that one match for someone in the world.”