Although FDU has hosted many blood drives in the past, a bone marrow drive was something new and different.
This week, the Office of Campus Life and Phi Sigma Sigma hosted a bone marrow drive in the Bottle Hill Room. For senior Janae Sones, coordinator of the event, the drive hit close to home.
“I found out that my stepfather was diagnosed with leukemia while I was on travel break during my semester at Wroxton,” said Sones. “When he was first diagnosed, he went through five rounds of chemotherapy. Though he’s been in remission since last October, there’s a high chance of relapse during the first year. If he relapses, he’ll have to get a bone marrow transplant.”
Sones noted that her stepfather is only in his early 40s, and has no history of leukemia or blood disorders. While the mention of bone marrow donation conjures up images of large needles and extreme discomfort, Sones made sure to address the rumor that donating bone marrow has to be painful.
“It’s a complete misconception about modern marrow donation,” Sones said. “When doctors first began the process, they did use needles to extract marrow from the pelvic bone. When they drew it from the bone, it was incredibly painful and complicated, but modern medicine has made marrow donation a lot easier.”
Now, instead of extracting from the pelvic bone, they draw blood and use stem cells. For the donor, there are no needles except the ones used to draw blood.
“The process is really similar to donating blood like the blood drives FDU does every semester,” said Sones.
The process of donating bone marrow is remarkably simple for such a crucial, life-saving substance. In an initial screening, potential donors are given four cotton swabs to swipe each side of their mouths. The samples are then checked for various diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis.
Sones noted that those with blood disorders, auto-immune deficiencies, or a history of leukemia are not allowed to donate, but for the most part, anyone can decide to be a donor.
Once a donor and recipient are matched, the donor takes two weeks of medication that increases production of stem cells. The only needles involved on the donating end are those used to draw blood. For the recipient, it is a painful, but often life-saving procedure.
Sones said that the most successful bone marrow matches come from siblings because the DNA structure is most similar.
Sones’ stepfather, however, did not find a match in either of his sisters, and turned to non-related donors for marrow.
“Even though related matches are usually best, about 70 percent of patients get specimens from people who aren’t related to them,” said Sones.
Unlike blood donation, a bone marrow donor has the opportunity to contact the recipient of their sample, forging a bond between the two people.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding procedure,” said Sones. “When you donate blood, you aren’t really sure what it’s going to be used for or who it’s going to, but when you donate bone marrow, you’re really saving a life – that person will die if they don’t receive the transplant. You’re getting an opportunity to save a life and you know exactly who it is.”