Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 3: Bone Marrow Donor Registry

For our third day of giving, Amber and I both registered with the "Be The Match" National Marrow Donor Program as potential bone marrow donors. We will receive cotton swabs in the mail, which we'll use to take cell samples from the inside of our cheeks, and then return for testing. We'll remain in the registry, and when we come up as a match for a needy recipient, our bone marrow will be extracted and donated, possibly saving a life.

We were inspired to this particular giving opportunity by a woman in class with Amber, whose young (three or four year old) son suffered from a form of leukemia. He immediately went on chemotherapy, and they set out to find a match. They ended up finding a matching donor from somewhere along the Pacific coast. The boy is now seven years old and is doing fine, all thanks to a stranger from across the country.

Now all of this testing and tracking takes money, so when you sign up for the registry they request a $100 donation to cover the costs associated with the donation. (We went ahead and put our $200 on the credit card. It's normally not a good idea to give with credit, but since we wanted to get on the registry as soon as possible, decided it would be okay this time since we'll pay it back with the paycheck next week. It just didn't seem in the spirit of the project to sign up for the registry and not cover the associated costs at the same time.) If you aren't able to donate money, though, you should still sign up for the registry, as long as you meet the guidelines. Donations from other sources, such as Jeff Gordon, can cover these costs even if you can't.

What amazed me was that the site also contains information about donating umbilical cord blood, and I really didn't realize that this was an option. I was vaguely aware of medical uses for the umbilical cord, and I knew that there were (expensive) services you could sign up for to save the umbilical cord blood in case your baby had a problem down the road, but in the wealth of information covered with the birth of our recent child, Gideon (three months and one week old!), I don't recall the issue of donating umbilical cord blood even coming up. If it did come up, it wasn't a big deal.

The website has a neat video about it, but it's not particularly informative on the details. It does make it clear that certain ethnicities, such as African-American, have high incidences of blood disorders, so they require a diverse pool of donor blood cells to get the proper matches. The reason why the umbilical cord blood is useful is, according to the site, "Cord blood is rich in blood-forming cells that can be used in transplants for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and many other life-threatening diseases."

At some point, you'd think that a person would have said, "Hey, pay attention - this stuff either goes in the incinerator or saves a life. Which do you want?" I mean, donating bone marrow is a big inconvenience (from what I've heard); donating umbilical cord blood, not so much. They just take that stuff away anyway, and you never see it again.

Part of me wonders if the reason it wasn't more prominently discussed was because we were at a Catholic hospital, but I wouldn't imagine that the use of umbilical cord blood would conflict with the philosophical doctrines at the heart of the Catholic church's opposition to stem cell research. (I'm not a biologist, but I do know that blood cells and stem cells are different.) Maybe people just don't want to be pushy at a time like that, but this is something that I really regret we didn't do.

So, if you're pregnant and reading this, or if you know someone who's pregnant, check out the information (or pass it along). Every parent should make an informed decision about this, and not just trust that your doctors will pass along every relevant option.

After all, your baby's first act in this world could be to save a life.