I am not sure I regret that I do not have kids but I was definitely thrilled to be able to extend my bloodline without having any! How did I do it?
Last week I made a donation of my Bone Marrow Cells or Hematopoietic Stem Cells to an anonymous Leukemia patient via the Be The Match Registry. These are specialized Stem Cells that can only grow into various blood cells.
It all started when I found a message on my phone telling me that I had been identified as a "match" for a donation and that they would like to speak with me. Unable to recall when I had even registered to do something like that and feeling somewhat certain this was an elaborate prank by one of my friends I called back. Of course the call was genuine and I was told there was indeed a patient in need and that I had registered almost two decades ago.
My anonymous recipient (who I shall dub "Steve") and others who have Leukemia need these donations because:
Bone Marrow Transplant is a life-saving treatment for people with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases. A donor's healthy blood-forming cells are given directly into a patient's bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply. For a patient's body to accept these healthy cells, they need a donor who is a close match.
Here is the full set of frequently asked questions.
Having chosen not to procreate, I will confess that I was very ambivalent about having my blood in anyone at all. However over the course of that afternoon I wrestled with the idea and decided that answering a living person's need was less demanding than attempting to create someone in my own image.
I talked it over with my wife and we agreed I would go ahead.
Over further conversations with the folks from the Registry and eventually with the folks from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute I chose one of two possible procedures, a schedule of testing and a date for the actual donation.
The procedure I chose was the less invasive one called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection. I was given a drug called Filgrastim (read his first and then read the National Library of Medicine article) for 5 days prior to the donation which stimulates the production of blood forming cells in my bones. On the day of the donation blood would be piped from one arm, passed through a machine that extracted the EXTRA blood forming cells generated and then my blood would be returned to me via another arm. The extraction process is quite high tech with the blood being contained completely within a dedicated circuit of tubing. The machine itself never contacts your blood!
The whole process was relatively simple. Apart from the pain (which I was warned about and given medication for just in case) the Filgrastim caused in my bones (hips, back, shoulder blades, chest bones) as it stimulated blood forming cell production and the time spent hooked up to the machine that filtered out stem cells I really did not have much to complain about. There was not even a financial cost to me.
If anything being thanked and told every step of the way that I was doing something good was very nice.
Here is another donor talking about the process on video
- I do hope that my account of this causes others to join the registry.
- I definitely hope that if someone is identified as a match, my accounting helps them agree to make the donation. Hopefully you will feel like this at the end of it
- The thought of organic fragments of me running around inside someone else is somewhat disturbing but also gives me a smile to think it might help this someone. Each day I mentally urge the cells that have been taken from me to do more for "Steve" than they did for me.
- I wonder if "Steve" should now be "SteveDeep" or in keeping with my family traditions - "Stevaradhya"!
- I wonder if I should consider "Steve" family now. If "Steve" can and has kids after this I wonder if I should think of them as partly mine?!
- I hope he/she cannot claim any part of any inheritance I might receive!
- Somewhat like a parent I have mild agony over whether the transplant will transfer some of my traits and memories to "Steve". This is merely conjecture but I hope "Steve" is lucky and receives the better parts of me and none of my less than stellar parts.
- Both because of the above and because the DNA matching required to make this donation and transplant possible suggests similar ethnic background I hope I have NOT made the world a touch less diverse.
- Despite not being particularly religious I do subscribe to the ideals of kindness and the Hindu ideal of Dāna. When a total stranger asked for it Karna ripped and gave away the divine armor that rendered him invincible in an ultimate act of charity and selflessness. In giving away a few of my stem cells (that were redundant) I hope I have lived up to that ideal in some way.
- It would be strange and ironic if I ever come to need a bone marrow transplant
- I hope I get to meet "Steviee" some day!
After the donation, the cells taken from me were sent on to the anonymous recipient. I hope he/she received them and has begun a recovery!
My thanks to Patti from Be The Match and Emily, Susanne, Julie and Karen from Dana Farber for making my process informed, safe and fun!