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Bone Marrow Awareness: A Time For Action

by  CN Team on July 01, 2014
Bone Marrow Awareness: A Time For Action

The importance of being a bone marrow donor was brought to our attention as the world poured out love and support for “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts who went through a bone marrow transplant in 2012 after being diagnosed with MDS, a rare blood and bone marrow disorder. The news anchor’s sister Sally was found to be her match but for many, a family member may not be the one who can save their lives and so the search then continues.

July is African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month sponsored by the organization Be The Match that is encouraging African-Americans to sign-up as donors to save lives.  “Matches are found typically within the same racial composition. The biggest thing that I like to share with our group [African-Americans] is that we are the biggest cure for our own. We have the cure for each other and we need to raise awareness and we need to be educated about our options and participate with Be The Match and move to action,” says Barbara Nolan, Manager of Community Engagement in the Northeast District for Be The Match. 

Nolan has worked for the organization for more than 15 years and has seen the need in the African-American community. In fact, African-Americans still have the lowest odds of finding a matching donor compared to other populations due to our diverse backgrounds and therefore diverse tissue types. In the past three years, nearly 10,000 African-Americans have been added to the national Be The Match Registry ® but thousands more are needed.

In simple terms, bone marrow is the “spongy tissue inside of your bones, such as your hip and thigh and contains stem cells.”  Stems cells develop into red and white blood cells and platelets. If the bone marrow is diseased, it can no long produce these cells and platelets to help the body fight off infections and diseases.  Therefore a bone marrow transplant is needed.

There are over 70 diseases that include sickle cell anemia and blood cancers such as leukemia and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that can possibly be cured by a bone marrow transplant. For patients with these diseases, there is hope and that is another reason why individuals are encouraged to see if they are the match.

Ideal donors are healthy and between the ages of 18-44, however everyone is encouraged to register.  In addition, potential donors should be free of chronic diseases, heart or back alignment issues as well as anyone who has not had cancer.

Procedures for securing bone marrow from donor matches have improved to make it a more comfortable experience.  There are two different collection procedures. The first is the "bone harvest procedure" where the donor is put under anesthesia and the bone marrow is taken from the hip. It takes about 90-minutes and may feature some discomfort but people are still able to resume light daily activities.  The second procedure which is done 75% of the time, is taking the stem cells after they have been release into the bloodstream.  It involves taking the blood out of one arm, collecting the stem cell components and then returning your other blood products through the other arm.

Now that you are aware of the need and how each of us can save a life, be couraged to see if you can be a match. To learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor, visit www.btmitsonyou.org and enter the special promo code AABMAM to join the online registry.  For more information about how to get involved in your city, visit the organizations website at www.bethematch.org.

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