Bone marrow could be the gift of life for some

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— I would like to save someone's life someday. That's why I joined the National Bone Marrow Registry several years ago. If that phone call ever comes, notifying me that I am a match for a person who needs a transplant, I'll be ready.

You also have the opportunity to give this precious gift during your lifetime, if you meet the health and age criteria. All you need to do is educate yourself on the marrow transplant process and decide if this is something you wish to do.

The registration process is simple. I filled out a form, paid my fee and answered the health screening questions. Then I rolled up my sleeve and gave a very small amount of blood. After my blood was tested, I was entered in the national registry.

If I am ever called as a potential match, I will be asked to give more blood for detailed testing. At the conclusion of the tests, if I am still a match, I will be given information about the person who requires a transplant and asked to sign a consent form.

I cannot imagine any circumstances that would discourage me from giving. So, assuming I say "yes" and pass a thorough physical exam, both the recipient and I will take the next step.

The recipient will undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment to kill diseased cells. I will be given daily injections of a drug called Filgrastim for four or five consecutive days leading up to the date of the transplant procedure. I will then travel to the nearest collection site, probably in the Denver area.

In the hospital, I will receive anesthesia. Some procedures are done with spinal or epidural anesthesia, while others require general anesthesia.

Depending on the recipient's need, I will donate either peripheral blood stem cells or liquid marrow. The precious substance will then be transported to the waiting donor.

The collection process is not exactly a walk in the park. Common short-term side effects from the injections and donation can include bone and muscle pain, headaches, nausea and fatigue. However, when I balance my potential discomfort against the fears and fate of someone who desperately needs a transplant, I am prepared to make what I consider to be a minor sacrifice.

Every year, more than 30,000 children and adults in the United States are diagnosed with diseases for which a marrow or blood stem cell transplant can be a cure. The fortunate 30 percent will find a matched donor within their families. The remaining 70 percent 21,000 individuals must depend upon the kindness of strangers.

The National Marrow Donor Program currently administers transplants to more than 1,400 patients per year. Clearly, the registry needs to grow to find the needed number of matched donors.

One of my co-workers, Deb Freseman, suffers from a rare blood disease and will one day require a transplant. She is a lovely person and a dedicated and valued emergency nurse. Deb maintains a cheerful yet realistic outlook, knowing her future depends on finding a matched donor and having a successful transplant.

Becoming a matched donor for any of the thousands of people on the waiting list would be the greatest holiday gift imaginable. I already know that I am not a match for Deb. But you might be.

Our Yampa Valley Medical Center Auxiliary is hosting a bone marrow registry drive at the hospital on Saturday. Deb and I hope to see you there.

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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