What happens when you donate bone marrow?

11:11 PM, Sep 15, 2011   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - For those who have leukemia, lymphoma or a genetic disorder, sometimes a bone marrow or peripheral stem cell transplant is the best or only option for treatment. But not everyone has a relative who can donate.

Be The Match, the National Bone Marrow Registry, is located right here in the Twin Cities. By matching possible donors to recipients, it facilitates more than 5,000 transplants every year.  More people are needed on its registry.  

But what happens if you volunteer to donate and then you get the call that you are a match?

Laura Houghton knows.

A little piece of her is alive and well in Omaha, Nebraska.

She said, "I never thought I'd have that kind of impact on someone's life."

Strangers, but also a perfect match, 26-year-old Houghton donated bone marrow to now 5-year-old Owen Jensen in January 2010. He had leukemia. She had registered with Be The Match because she had a friend who had leukemia and needed a transplant.

Houghton said, "My friend found somebody."  Houghton decided she wanted to provide the same kind of hope to another family.

Nine million people are registered but Mary Halet with Be the Match said not everyone can find a match in the registry. She said more people are needed.

Halet said, "It's important that we join the registry because we tend to match people with the same ancestry or ethnic heritage that we have."

It's actually very easy to join the Be The Match registry.  You can request a kit online.  When you get it in the mail, open it up and find four cotton swabs. Swab the sides of your cheeks and mail it back to Be The Match and you're registered.

If you are determined to be a match with someone who needs a transplant, you will still have the choice to say yes or no.

If you chose to donate, Halet explained that 75% of the time, those matched usually donate through a process called peripheral blood stem cell collection which is much like giving blood or platelets. 

Houghton did the other process, which is often needed for pediatric transplant recipients.  She said, "I did a traditional bone marrow harvest where you actually go in under anesthesia and they collect some samples out of your hip. It was actually very, very easy."

The friend who inspired Houghton to register passed away but she said with the help of his parents Owen sends her cards and texts.  She said he's thriving.

Houghton said, "I like to think she was reason I signed up, so she was the reason Owen had a second chance at life."

Donors and recipients can meet each other if they choose but they must wait one year. Houghton and Owen's family now regularly communicate and even participated in a fun run together for Be The Match in May.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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