Every year, thousands are stricken with blood cancer conditions and other blood-related diseases. In the past, such a diagnosis was often lethal. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments could often induce a remission, but rarely offer a cure. Today, transplantation of healthy stem cells donated by related and unrelated volunteers offer hope to many patients suffering from these deadly diseases. Advances in transplantation have made this procedure a reality for thousands who are alive today because strange donors gave them a second chance - the gift of life.

Tissue type is inherited, like eye or hair color. A patient’s best chance of finding a genetic match is someone who shares the same ethnic and geographic ancestry. However, the possibility of a finding a match exists anywhere.

Blood stem cells are the progenitors that produce the major components of the blood. They are found predominantly in the bone marrow, a substance found in the hollow cavities of the body’s large bones. Stem Cells can be collected from two potential sources: bone marrow and peripheral blood. Patients suffering from a wide variety of diseases, such as leukemia, bone marrow failure blood disorders, lymphoma and certain immune and metabolic disorders, can benefit from stem cells transplantation.

Peripheral blood stem cells: Another option is to collect stem cells from the circulating peripheral blood rather than the bone marrow. Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) transplantation is a recognized and promising therapy. In order to collect a sufficient quantity of stem cells, daily injections of a medication called filgrastim must be administered for four to five days. This mobilizes stem cells to travel from the bone marrow into the circulating peripheral blood. The stem cells are collected through a procedure called aphaeresis, which is similar to the process used in platelet donation. A cell separating machine filters out the stem cells, which can then be infused into the recipient.

Bone Marrow stem cells: Bone marrow is found in the hollow cavities of the body’s large bones, and it is considered the factory for stem cells production. Donation involves withdrawing 2-3 percent of the donor’s total marrow from the iliac crest of the hip, posterior aspect of the donor’s pelvic bone. There is no cutting, no stitching. The procedure involves a needle aspiration, performed under general anesthesia. Typically, the donor enters the hospital in the morning and goes home in the afternoon with the knowledge that he or she has helped to save a life!

While bone marrow currently remains a commonly requested stem cell source, some donors may be asked to donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) in lieu of marrow. Please bear in mind that it is the transplant physicians who choose the stem cell source, not the registry. This decision is based on what works best for the patient .Donors requested for blood stem cell collection will be counseled on the entire process at an information session.

With proper guidance, the final decision whether to donate and what to donate is up to the donor. If the donor declines to donate blood stem cells, he or she may also be offered the opportunity to donate bone marrow, and vice versa.

Donating stem cells is a significant commitment and we want all volunteers to be well educated. If identified as a match, each donor is counseled on the risks and benefits of donation at an information session, and receives a comprehensive physical exam. The donor bears no costs associated with the procedure or associated tests.

Stem cell donation is a voluntary process. Prospective donors are never under pressure to register. In fact, we ask that you take some time to consider your commitment in order to avoid giving false hope to patients in need. For the patient, there is no turning back once the pre-transplant treatment begins, usually seven to ten days before the transplant. At this point, without the donor’s healthy stem cells, the patient would die. Thus, it is crucial that the donor be committed to participate once the intent to donate is signed.

Several days prior to the donor’s stem cell collection; the patient begins pre-transplant conditioning usually consisting of chemotherapy with or without radiation treatment and this process eradicates the patient’s diseased immune system, and the patient is kept in protective isolation to prevent infection. The donor’s stem cells are given intravenously to the recipient. The stem cells migrate through the patient’s circulatory system to the hollow cavities of the bones. If all goes well, the stem cells engraft within a few weeks and begin to manufacture healthy blood cells, giving the patient a second chance - the gift of life! If both donor and recipient agree (this must be a mutual agreement).

The patient’s recuperation and rehabilitation process is lengthy, but the patient has been given a second chance at life because of someone donated, thanks to the kindness of a stranger - and that someone may be you