My brother Mark was only seven years old when I left home for college. We really didn’t have a lot in common back then. Now we have the same DNA. The blood coursing through my veins is his blood.
We recently had a DNA reunion in California. Mark, his wife Denise, Mary Pat, and I spent the week together on the Sonoma coast in Sea Ranch just south of Mendocino. It was a great opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives and to celebrate my successful (so far) battle against acute myeloid leukemia.
Mary Pat made a special cocktail for our celebration. She called it the Stem Cell Special. It looks amazingly like the IV bag full of Mark’s stem cells that gave me an extension on life back in May of 2016.
Stem cell transplants are a modern medical miracle. The key to a successful stem cell transplant is to find a donor who is a genetic match in 10 key areas. I was one of the fortunate patients who had a matching sibling. There is only a 25% chance that any given sibling will be a match. Those patients who don’t have a matching sibling must rely on the National Marrow Donor database.
If your stem cells match those of a blood cancer patient, you will be contacted and asked to go to a local hospital or medical cliniic. For 5 days leading up to your donation, you will be given injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells (also called blood stem cells) in your bloodstream.
On the day of your donation, your blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that will collect only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through a needle in the other arm. This process is similar to what is used when donating blood platelets.
If you are interested in joining the registry go to www.BeTheMatch.org for instructions.
In the meantime, be nice to your brothers and sisters. There’s a 25% chance that one of them can save your life someday.
Onward and upward!