Are You A Bone Marrow Donor?

Are you a member of the National Bone Marrow Registry? It doesn’t take much time or effort to join, although you do need to commit to being available in the event of a match — if you do match, you’ll need to be available for 30-40 hours over 4-6 weeks for screenings, testing, and eventual donation, which may include medications and/or anesthesia, depending on what kind of donation is eventually needed. You remain eligible until age 61, unless you drop out of the registry for illness or other reasons, and about one in 500 members ends up being a donor.

There are a lot of fantastic reasons to be a donor. I’m a big fan of organ and tissue donation when possible because, well, you can save lives with an easily replenished resource or something you’re not using, depending on the situation. Especially if you belong to a racial or ethnic minority, or are of mixed ancestry, you could be a critical match for someone who can’t find a source elsewhere. This is a growing problem in the US, where mixed-race children are more common, and it can be challenging to find people who match with them as donors. (To be clear, the problem here is not racial diversity! It’s just the lack of available donors to help people with mixed ancestry!)

The screening process for donors is pretty simple — you can go to a drive in your area or call to find out if you’re eligible, and then you can take a cheek swab which will go in their database. They’ll check it and in the event there’s a possible match, they’ll call for further testing. If you seem like a strong candidate, you will advance to the next phase, which can eventually lead to being a donor.

You can also do a quick screen to see if you’re likely to be turned down. The medical guidelines for donors are pretty extensive, to protect the welfare of patients and donors alike (one big concern with some conditions is that donors may not be healthy or able to donate when needed, so an apparent match wouldn’t actually be available). If you’re not eligible, you’re not a bad person! But you can still encourage other people who are to consider joining, as they or someone they love might be eligible and could be a great donor — or could someday need the services of a bone marrow donor.

I feel rather differently about the weight guidelines, which are based on false and scientifically inaccurate notions about weight and health, and I’ll leave how you decide to handle those to your discretion. You may want to talk to your doctor about whether you’d be a suitable candidate for bone marrow donation or other forms of organ and tissue donation, to determine what’s your best option. (And if you don’t have a fat-friendly doctor, it’s definitely time to fire her and find someone who will treat you, and your body, with the respect you deserve. Being fat isn’t a disease.)

Organ and tissue donation are a cause I feel very passionately about, because it’s a relatively small thing you can use to make a huge difference in someone’s life. Yes, bone marrow donation requires a commitment of time and energy, and I’m not going to gloss over that. But you can play a vital role in someone’s recovery from what would otherwise be a devastating disease, which is pretty darn amazing. Your own body has the power to heal other people! And, unlike (most) organ donation, you don’t have to die to donate your bone marrow, which is a definite plus (blood donation, likewise, offers a low-risk, death-free donation option).

So I encourage you to check it out and consider joining the registry. The more people who register, the greater the probability of a match for someone who might have unique and otherwise challenging genetics. And the more people who register, the more distributed the potential of actually being called upon to donate will become, with as many people as possible offering to do their part if needed. For those who can’t donate, but would like to, consider doing it. For those who may someday fall ill and desperately need bone marrow, consider doing it. The world is a better place when we share what we can with each other.

Image: Follicular Lymphoma in Bone Marrow, Ed Uthman, Flickr.