On any given day in the United States alone, the lives of 17,500 people with leukemia or other blood diseases depend on finding a donation of matching bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Many of the patients are children, and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, only 30 percent will have a matching donor in their families.
All it takes to register to become a marrow donor is swabbing the inside of your cheek with a cotton ball and sending the swab to Gift of Life or another registry. If you’re lucky enough to be a match, you’ll be asked if you’d like to donate. If you choose to proceed, there are two ways to do it: marrow cells can be extracted from the hip bone, or blood from a donor’s arm can be put in a machine where stem cells are separated from the blood and the blood is returned through the other arm. Side effects are usually limited to short-term hip soreness and the long-term euphoria of saving a life.
Gift of Life partners with registries in other countries, so patients can search globally to find their match. If you live in the United States or Canada, visit Gift of Life for more information or to sign up to receive a cheek-swab kit in the mail. If you live elsewhere, you can use a list of global registries to help you become a bone marrow donor online. Research shows that younger donors provide the highest likelihood of transplant success, so Gift of Life donors must be under sixty, and the registry asks donors forty-six and older to pay for their swab kit.