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Register to Save a Life

Sign Up for the National Marrow Donor Program Registry at Norris Cotton Cancer Center Locations in September

September 9, 2009

Amanda & James

Left: Amanda, Age 19, Blood Stem Cell Donor, Derry, NH
Right: James, Age 32, Marrow Donor, Burlington, VT

The Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center is sponsoring a series of donor registration events from September 15 - 18 at its four regional locations in New Hampshire and Vermont. To register for the National Marrow Donor Program registry, a national database of people willing to donate blood stem cell or bone marrow, requires only a cheek swab plus contact and health information.

Drives will be held at Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, Manchester, and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT.

How Blood Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Donations Are Used

Blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants are used in treating blood cancers and malignancies such as leukemia, lymphoma, and aplastic anemia. Every four minutes someone is diagnosed with one of these blood cancers, and every ten minutes someone dies from their disease. A blood stem cell or bone marrow donation offers hope to an adult or child fighting these difficult cancers. Seventy percent of patients in need of a life-saving marrow or blood stem cell transplant do not have a matched donor in their family. For those patients, an unrelated donor who matches the patient's tissue type is sought through a search of the National Marrow Donor Program registry.

The Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center is the only program in northern New England that performs unrelated donor transplants. As a collection center for the National Marrow Donor Program, the program collects blood stem cells and marrow for patients in need of a transplant all over the country and all over the world.

Amanda and James: Donors Who Saved Lives

Nineteen-year-old Amanda Brand of Derry, NH, recently donated peripheral blood stem cells. She signed up for the bone marrow registry when she gave blood in January, and was amazed when she was called as a potential match for a young child just six months later. "It was mind-blowing to think I could help," she said. In fact, finding the exact match needed for a transplant patient is rare.

Kevin Ireland of Norwalk, CT, signed up for the registry in college, encouraged by his lacrosse coach to get involved. Ireland didn't need much convincing. His grandfather had recently passed away from cancer. "If I had a chance to help my grandfather live for a few more years, I would have loved to do it," he said.

Seven years later, Ireland was called as a potential match for Gerald Best of Claremont, New Hampshire, who was struggling with CML, a type of leukemia. Best received a transplant of Ireland's bone marrow in January 2008, and nearly two years later, the two are making plans to meet soon. Registering to donate is something that everyone should be involved in, Ireland says. "The more people who are involved, the more lives we're saving. I can't explain how satisfying it is to know that you've helped someone."

Dispelling Misconceptions about Bone Marrow Donation

Misconceptions about bone marrow donation abound. In fact, most donors give peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC), not bone marrow, through a procedure that does not require surgery. In a PBSC donation, cells are collected from the bloodstream in a process similar to donating plasma. Donors take the drug filgrastim for five days before donation, and may experience symptoms such as headache, bone or muscle pain, nausea, insomnia or fatigue during this time. These symptoms nearly always disappear one or two days after donating, and the donor is back to normal.

Marrow donation is a surgical procedure, but does not usually require the donor to be admitted to the hospital. Anesthesia is always used during the procedure and donors feel no pain during the donation process. In marrow donation, only the liquid marrow found inside the bones is collected, and only five percent or less of a donor's marrow is needed to save a life. After donation, the donor's body replaces the marrow within four to six weeks. Marrow donors may experience fatigue, some soreness, and possibly discomfort in walking but can expect to be resume normal activities within one to seven days.