Bone marrow transplants: The facts
A bone marrow (also called stem cell) transplant puts a donor’s healthy cells into the recipient’s bloodstream, where they multiply to produce healthy cells. The tissue type of all registered donors is held on a global database. A patient’s tissue type is compared to all those on the registry, and if there’s a match, the donor is contacted for another blood test and checked against other medical criteria. All siblings inherit their tissue types from their parents, so they have the best chance (about 1 in 4) of being a match with each other. Unfortunately, extended family members don’t offer a better chance at a match than an unrelated donor.
About 90 per cent of people donate from their bloodstream, so it’s as simple as giving blood. Sometimes, people are asked to donate from the bone marrow, but it’s under general anaesthetic so there’s no pain.
Anyone between the ages of 18 and 45 can join the registry through the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. It involves a simple blood test but you must specify that you wish to be a bone marrow donor. Call 131 495 or visit donateblood.com.au
My siblings, Paul and Zoe, had their bone marrow tested but they weren’t a match, so my hopes were then pinned on the worldwide bone marrow registry. Sadly, out of more than 28 million donors who were registered, my unique heritage wasn’t a match. Where did that leave me?
After four rounds of chemo, I went into remission in December but there was a catch – I was told that if the cancer came back, the only remaining option was a combination of stronger chemo and a bone marrow transplant. Without it, I’d die.
Up until that moment, I’d accepted the reality of my diagnosis, and done what I could, but now the next step itself evaded me. It was devastating.
But I wasn’t about to quit. I want to be here, for myself, for the kids, for all the adventures life has to offer. It’s been a bumpy ride but it’s mine. Friends sprang into action setting up the Find Tan A Donor page on Facebook to spread the word. Within months, 5000 strangers became members.
So many of my friends who had AML have died on my watch. We can’t control the outcome of our lives so I’m doing what I can: relaxation exercises, cooking homemade food and juices, preparing for the renewal of our marriage vows next month and visiting the ocean every day.
The search for a donor so far has proved futile and we haven’t found a compatible match. My journey may end soon, but no-one knows their future. There’s still hope, and as scary as my future is, I’m not going to let it cloud my present.” To find out more visit facebook.com/ findtanadonor