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Donor Information

Christine Pettrone and Sandra Scott-Burnside reuniteWho Can Be a Donor?

Just about anyone of any race, ethnic group, or gender can become a marrow or blood stem cell donor. The National Marrow Donor Program recommends the donor be between 18 and 60 years old and meet donation health guidelines.

However, the transplantation process has the greatest chance of success if donors are close relatives of the patient, because their genetic makeup is the most similar.

How can I become an unrelated volunteer donor?

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Donor Testing

Donors need to take a blood test, called Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing, to determine if their genetic makeup is compatible with the patient. HLAs are proteins found in the outer coating of the cells in your body. Your immune system uses HLAs to recognize foreign substances. Each person has a mostly unique set of HLAs inherited from their parents. Identical twins have the same HLA type, and siblings have a 1 in 4 chance of matching at important HLA sites. In BMT, matching HLA types is how we determine donor compatibility.

Donation Process

Before donating, donors must have a thorough physical exam to make sure they meet the donor health guidelines.

The process to collect bone marrow from a donor is called stem cell collection or harvest. The collected marrow can be infused as a fresh product or stored fresh in a blood bank until needed. The stored marrow is thawed and re-infused during the transplant process. The collection is done in one of two ways:

  • Apheresis, a process in which stem cells are collected from peripheral blood. Stem cells may be stimulated with medications to move from the bone marrow space into the blood stream. Blood is removed from the body, typically through an IV, and goes into an apheresis machine, where the stem cells are separated out and the rest of the blood is returned to the body. The stem cells are stored in a blood bank in a preserved, frozen state.
  • Surgical procedure, in which the donor is given local or general anesthesia. A surgeon inserts a needle into the rear hip bone, where a large quantity of bone marrow is found, and the marrow is extracted through the needle into a syringe. The surgeon may insert the needle into several spots in the hip bone to extract enough marrow for the transplantation. Because much of what is collected in the marrow is blood, some of that blood is returned to the donor. The entire procedure takes about one hour. After the procedure, the donor may feel tired and have some pain in the lower back or hip area. The donor can take a pain reliever like acetaminophen. Most donors are able to go home right after the procedure. Donors should be able to resume their normal activities after a few days. The donor’s body will replace the lost bone marrow quickly, in the next few weeks.

Cord Blood Donations

Donating cord blood is medically safe. The cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord after your baby is born. Donation does not change the birth experience. The umbilical cord and placenta are usually thrown away after a baby is born. Donating cord blood is free and confidential if donated to a public bank. Private cord banks for personal/family cord storage are available. Visit the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) site for more information.

Other ways to help

Donating blood

Most people who donate blood for the first time are surprised that it’s such a simple experience. The entire donation process takes about an hour from start to finish. The actual drawing of blood only takes about 10 minutes.

Eligible donors are between 17 and 75 years of age, weigh over 110 pounds and in good health. A unit of blood can be donated every 56 days. You must wait at least 72 hours after donating blood before you can donate platelets.

The American Red Cross coordinates blood donations in our region and can help connect you with a donation center or blood drive near you.

Donating platelets

A platelet donation consists of the withdrawal of blood from the arm into a special machine where it’s separated into its component parts, a process called apheresis. A small percentage of your platelets are collected into a special container and the rest of the blood and platelets are returned. The entire donation process takes about two hours from start to finish. The actual donation time takes about 90 minutes. Platelets can also be separated from a unit of donated whole blood, but fewer platelets can be collected with this process.

People between 17 and 75 years of age, weighing over 110 pounds and in good health can donate platelets as frequently as every 48 hours, but no more than 24 times a year. You must wait at least 72 hours after donating blood before you can donate platelets.

The American Red Cross coordinates platelet donations in our region and can help connect you with a donation center.