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ROCKFORD – Last spring, Philip Moe was walking through the lobby of his residence hall at Northern Illinois University when he saw a bone marrow registry drive.
He stopped, gave a swab sample from inside his cheek and filled out some paperwork, and within a few minutes had joined the international registry. Prospective donors remain in the registry until they ask to be removed or turn 61 years old, whichever comes first.
Some never actually donate. But Moe, 22, received a call in December informing him he was a potential match for a patient requiring a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
Blood tests confirmed Moe was a perfect match for the patient, a 52-year-old woman with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I was really excited,” Moe said Thursday as he lay in a recliner at the Rock River Valley Blood Center in Rockford. Blood was drawn from one arm through a tube and funneled into a centrifuge, which separated the stem cells from the red cells and plasma. Another tube returned the blood, minus the stem cells, to his other arm. “I’ve never been nervous through the whole process. It’s just been exciting.”
The process of collecting the stem cells from circulating blood – known as peripheral blood stem cell collection, or PBSC – was much easier than Moe was expecting, he said. Like many people, he was under the impression marrow had to be collected surgically, by inserting a needle into the pelvic bone.
Though surgical donors are anesthetized during the process, it is much more intimidating than PBSC donation and is done in only about 30 percent of cases, blood center spokeswoman Margaret Shannon said.
“The doctor decides what would be best for the patient,” she said. “But (PBSC donation) really has changed things. We can do a lot more collections this way because it doesn’t involve scheduling surgery.”
For five days before the collection, Moe had injections of a drug to increase the volume of stem cells in his blood. The injections can make some donors feel achy, like they have the flu, registered nurse Julie Tilbury said, but the feeling typically passes after the stem cells are removed.
“From his perspective, this is kind of minor,” Shannon said, gesturing at Moe as he watched “Seinfeld” DVDs with his girlfriend. “But from the patient’s perspective, this is life-changing.”
Moe’s PBSC was done over two days, in four-hours shifts. Moe was covered with a blue fleece blanket Thursday to keep him warm during the first session, and complained of some tingling in his mouth during the donation. But his spirits were high.
“It’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s nothing compared to what I’m sure the recipient is going through,” he said. “It’s not as huge a process and recovery as people think. Take a couple of days out of your schedule and that’s it. It’s not a big commitment to save someone’s life.”
Moe was not told where the recipient of his stem cells was, but she could be anywhere in the world, Shannon said. About 30 percent of marrow donations are international. But even with donors from all over the world to choose from, only 40 percent of patients who consult the registry get the transplant they need, Tilbury said. The other 60 percent fail to find a match.
Join the Registry
To join the international bone marrow registry, or for more information about bone marrow donation, visit www.bethematch.org or call 800-627-7692.
By the Numbers
• 6,000 patients are searching the registry at any given time
• For 10,000 patients each year, their only hope of recovery is a transplant from outside their family.
• 70 percent of patients needing a transplant do not have a match within their family
• Fewer than 40 percent of patients needing a transplant find a match
• 7 million people are on the Be the Match registry, 73 percent of whom are white. Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity.
Source: Be the Match international bone marrow registry