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jumping into the ocean
becoming a bone marrow donor
by lucy lediaev
5.9.08
general

It’s amazing to me that people’s phobias can so easily color their perception of the world. Our company, which manufactures tissue typing tests for organ and bone marrow transplants, is co-sponsoring a bone marrow donor drive with a local non-profit organization. The non-profit group originally focused on the Los Angeles Asian population because of a shortage of Asian donors. Now they include potential donors of all ethnicities in their drives.

One limitation of the drive is age. Unfortunately, I, who am willing to be a bone marrow donor, cannot be considered for the program. I exceed the top age for the program by four years. In talking to others here, I’ve been surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the program. Two issues seem to be barriers to participation:

  1. The perception that the marrow donation process will hurt when a large needle is used to remove marrow from the hip bone
  2. The perception that being tissue typed as a potential donor commits one to donating marrow whenever a match is made

The first objection appears to be based on a fear of needles; this fear appears, from my personal observations, to be much more common in males than in females. The second objection is based on a misconception—-that qualification as a donor is an automatic commitment to provide bone marrow to a matching recipient.

I’ve talked to several strong, healthy, intelligent young men here who cite their fear of needles. They are aware of the large number of people (30,000 annually) in the USA who need bone marrow transplants for a chance for survival. These same people, I would venture to guess, would not hesitate to jump in a pool, lake, river, or the ocean to pull out a drowning child. They might risk their lives to save a child (or even a cat or dog) from danger. But, they hesitate to take a simple step to give the gift of life to a child (or adult), who might otherwise expire from bone marrow deficiency diseases, immune system disorders and specific forms of cancer of the blood.

The second objection can easily be overcome by a bit of information. By signing up for the tissue typing test (which for the potential donor consists of swabbing the inside of the cheek for a DNA sample), the prospective donor has not made a commitment to donate his or her bone marrow. Instead, the data is stored in a national database where it may be matched with the typing of a potential bone marrow recipient. Once a match is made, the possible donor is contacted and offered the opportunity to donate. The potential donor may opt out for any reason—-social, medical, financial, or other. There is no penalty and no shame in not being available for a particular donation opportunity.

I wish I could donate, but I cannot. The idea does not frighten me at all. I can’t imagine that the pain of the needle used to aspirate the marrow from the donor hip bone could begin to approach the extended discomfort of a life-threatening illness.

I wish my younger colleagues would put things in perspective and consider risks they'd take to save a life. Would they pull a person from a burning building or motor vehicle? Would they rescue someone drowning in deep water? Would they take on someone molesting a child or elderly person? Would they cover the body of child with their own if faced with gun fire or debris from an earthquake or tornado? If they can answer “yes” to any of these questions, it seems clear to me that they could take the risk to submit a bit of DNA for typing and perhaps someday consider becoming a bone marrow donor.


ABOUT LUCY LEDIAEV

A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

more about lucy lediaev

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