Bone mar­row trans­plants: The facts

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - REAL LIFE -

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

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