Interested in being a bone marrow donor

Originally Published: June 6, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 4, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I am interested in donating bone marrow, but seem unable to find any information on doing so. Could you give me some info on the procedure and also who I contact if I decide to do so?

Thank you,

Dear Laura,

Kudos to you for considering a bone marrow donation and searching for the information you will need to guide you in making a decision. Being a donor of any kind is a truly selfless, generous, and giving act. Donors are always in demand because people are out there who rely on donated organs and the like to survive, and are anxiously waiting for a compatible match. For them, these donations are the gifts of life.

As for the bone marrow donation process; first, potential bone marrow donors are provided with general information about bone marrow donation and sign a consent form, if interested. Then, a blood sample is drawn for human leukocyte (white blood cell) antigen (HLA) type testing. The results are entered onto the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, which is an internationally used database. Volunteers will be contacted for further testing when there is a preliminary match with a patient. If additional testing confirms compatibility with the patient, the volunteer will learn more specific and detailed information, and get a physical exam to be certain that s/he is in good health.

Once everything has been cleared and approved to proceed, the volunteer then decides whether or not to become a bone marrow donor. If it's a go, the donor will be asked for either a peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC) or a marrow donation. A PBSC donation is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure, meaning no hospital stay is required. A marrow donation is a surgical procedure, which would be performed under either general or local anesthesia, and is arranged at a select hospital in the donor's area. During a marrow donation procedure, bone marrow will be harvested from the donor's pelvic bone with a special needle (read Bone marrow transplant in the General Health archives for information about the patient's transplant). Marrow donors usually can go home the next day and return to normal activities. Some soreness may be experienced, but this is brief. The donor typically restores her/his bone marrow within a few weeks.

As you may know, bone marrow transplantations are important because they can help treat life-threatening diseases, such as leukemias, solid tumor cancers, and lymphomas. (Read Leukemia in Alice's General Health archives for more information.)

Now that you know the steps involved in becoming a bone marrow donor, if you decide to volunteer, whom do you contact? You can contact the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) or your local blood bank to get the ball rolling. For more general information about bone marrow donations, contact the Bone Marrow Foundation at 800-365-1336. There is also a Bone Marrow Transplant Family Support Network at 800-826-9376.

Good luck in making a decision that's right for you.