My father was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) three days before New Years in 2009. Instead of embarking on my planned trip to Vegas, we checked my father into the hospital the very next day to begin treatment. We were told that his cancer was progressing quickly and the only way to save his life was by finding a match to donate adult stem cells. We had one year to do so before the cancer would spread beyond treatment.
Finding a match is not an easy task considering that the odds are that 1 in 20,000 will be a match. Every year, more than 12,000 patients in the US are diagnosed with life threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma and about70% of those patients will not find a match in their family. My dad’s three sisters were tested, but none of them were a match. The next step was to search the registry. In 2010, my family hosted over ten drives which added hundreds of new potential donors to the registry. Two of those drives found matches for two people which saved their lives and kept their families together.
What is the cost to the donor for saving a life?
All medical costs for the donation procedure are covered by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which operates the Be The Match Registry, or by the patient’s medical insurance, as are travel expenses and other non-medical costs. Many people are hesitant to join the registry because of the possible discomfort of contributing bone marrow. During the procedure the donor is given anesthesia and in most cases returns home that day or the very next morning. Furthermore, side effects are limited to discomfort for up to a few weeks. Stem cell transplants do not involve being put under anesthesia and donors usually report less discomfort. In addition, the discomfort you may feel will be little in comparison to the discomfort a family would feel losing a loved one. To read more regarding procedures please visit www.marrow.org/.
Hosting a drive this time of year is particularly special for me. In March of 2010, right before Passover, we got news that my father’s life would be saved. We had found a match in Israel! The Stem Cells were collected in Israel and flown into the US. The donor was a young man at the time 23 years old who did not hesitate to donate the moment he found out he was a match. In May of this year, I will be going home to California to meet the young man who saved my father’s life. An interesting fact, Israel is the largest contributor of stem cells and bone marrow in the world.
I am now urging all of you to be courageous and join the registry with the hopes that you can bring joy back to a family like mine. On April 29th, at the Gather the Jews Happy hour we will be hosting a drive. The process will take 10-15 minutes. It involves filling out a form and conducting a check swab which you do yourself. Help save a life.