Did You Know...The Facts About Giving the Gift of Life?

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 12, 2009

A bone marrow transplant (BMT) can be a life-saving procedure for both children and adults with leukemia, lymphoma and other diseases affecting the blood. In order to undergo a BMT, the patient needs bone marrow cells from someone with a matching tissue type. While this is most likely found in a sibling or other family member, about 70% of patients will not have a family member who matches their type closely enough to be used (the closer the match, the better for the patient). Those with no family match turn to the Be The Match Registry®, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), an international national registry of potential donors willing to donate to any patient in need. An estimated 6,000 adults and children search the registry every day. How can you help? Become a donor yourself or donate your baby's cord blood.

  • The Be The Match Registry contains approximately 7 million people's tissue types and 300,000 cord blood units, yet many patients are still unable to find a match.
  • Tissue type is inherited, so patients are more likely to match someone from their own race or ethnicity. Minorities and people with mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds are underrepresented and urgently needed in the registry.
  • You can join online in just a few minutes. You will receive a kit containing cotton swabs used to collect cells from inside the cheek. These are used to determine your tissue type, which is then entered into the registry.
  • If a patient in need of a transplant matches your tissue type, you would be contacted to set up further testing and donation.
  • It is important to give serious consideration to the decision to join the registry. Changing your mind after being contacted can cause dangerous or life threatening delays for the patient in need of the transplant.
  • It costs about $100 to add a member to the registry. Often, these costs are covered by the generosity of individuals or organizations that support the cause.
  • All medical costs of donation are paid by the patient's medical insurance, not the donor. The NMDP reimburses donors for any travel costs associated with donating.
  • There are two ways to donate. The majority of donations do not involve surgery. The patient's doctor most commonly requests a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is non-surgical and outpatient. If the patient's doctor requests marrow, marrow donation is a surgical procedure, usually outpatient.
  • Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and be in good health. Potential donors are removed from the registry when they turn 61 years of age. This age is used as a cut off for the safety of the donor.
  • The umbilical cord provides nutrients and blood flow to a baby while in the mother's womb, but once he or she is born, the cord is no longer needed and is discarded. The blood remaining in the cord is rich in cells that can be used for a BMT. After delivery, the physician can collect these blood cells and send them to the NMDP cord blood bank for use by future patients. Find out how to donate your baby's cord blood.

Learn more or join today at www.bethematch.org.