Donors added during bone marrow drive

By Conor Snell

The University of Massachusetts chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha, working with DKMS Americas, added over 1,400 people to the national bone marrow donor registry during a three-day spring registration drive last week outside the Franklin, Worcester and Berkshire dining commons.

For the past three years, DKMS, a non-profit organization based in New York that recruits potential bone marrow donors, has worked with Pi Kappa Alpha, or PIKE, to get students and community members from around UMass registered.

The effort has already positively matched at least 19 members of the UMass community to patients in need of bone marrow donations, according to DKMS figures.

“On average, it takes 1 in 20,000 people to provide a positive match,” wrote Grant George, past president of UMass PIKE, in a posting on the DKMS Facebook page. “At UMass, this ratio is about one in 250. We take this as a sign that we need to continue, we need to do more.”

Anyone between the ages of 18 and 55 is allowed to register provided they have a relatively clean medical history, and individuals who register in PIKE’s drive remain in the national donation registry for decades.

“It’s especially important for students to register,” said George. “If you’re 20 now and you register, you’ll be in the system for 30 years. That whole time, you’re available to donate … and possibly to help save someone’s life.”

No blood or marrow is taken at registration. Participants take a cheek swab and fill out a form, after which they are placed on a waiting list until a positive match is found for donation.

In most positive matches, donors may be asked to give peripheral blood stem cells, a procedure which DKMS calls “nothing more than a needle prick.” Blood is drawn out one arm with a sterile needle, sent into a machine which separates out the blood stem cells, and then cycled back into the other arm. These donors must also receive injections of the synthetic protein filgrastim for four days before and the day of collection. This protein increases the number of blood stem cells in the bloodstream.

DKMS says that actual marrow donation is typically only done in an emergency situation, where the patient is in immediate need of transfusion. Marrow donors are given general anesthesia during the collection and no pain is experienced during the procedure. Marrow cells are collected from the backside of the pelvic bone using a special syringe, and donors can expect only mild soreness in the extraction area for around two weeks after the collection.

“The pain after it’s done is equated to bruising your tailbone,” said UMass senior and campus DKMS organizer Ashley Cox. “Uncomfortable, but you saved someone’s life.”

According to deletebloodcancer.org, a bone marrow transplant can be a lifesaving procedure for a patient suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and many other bone and blood-based diseases. Healthy blood-forming marrow cells taken from a donor are transfused into the patient’s bloodstream, where the cells can multiply and begin producing healthy blood.

Matches between patient and donor must be very close so that the patient’s body does not reject the new cells, according to DKMS. Because of this, 70 percent of patients cannot find a matching donor within their family and must turn to the national registry to find an unrelated donor.

“The registration process takes only about 10 minutes, tops,” said Cox, who has been positively matched and is waiting to donate. “It’s really simple … and you could save someone’s life. I was called on to be a match … and it was the most exciting phone call I’ve ever gotten.”

Conor Snell can be reached at [email protected]