Donating bone marrow for the first time

While 28-year-old financial advisor Daniel Johnson was giving blood one day, he had a chat with one of the NZBS blood transfusion nurses about bone marrow donation. The nurse suggested that he’d make a great candidate for the NZ Bone Marrow Donor Registry (NZBMDR), and after finding out what was involved and talking through the process in more detail, Daniel couldn’t sign up fast enough.

The NZBMDR is recruiting males who are willing to donate cells from their bone marrow to patients worldwide if they are found to match someone in need of a bone marrow transplant. The Registry is part of a worldwide network of registries, which has over 25 million volunteer donors.

“I had no idea it was an option, but it just seemed like the right thing to do, particularly when I was told that the Bone Marrow Registry need more donors with my ethnic background,” says Daniel, who describes himself as, “A total mix – Cook Island, Maori and Fijian”.

So what is bone marrow? It is the soft tissue inside the bone which produces blood stem cells. These bone marrow stem cells develop into red blood cells (which transport oxygen), white blood cells (which fight infection) and platelets (which clot blood to stop bleeding). Each year, for many patients diagnosed with leukaemia or other serious blood disorders which prevent blood cells from maturing and functioning properly, a bone marrow transplant is the best or only hope for a cure.

Daniel donating bone marrow When people join The Registry, it might take years to be matched with a recipient, however for Daniel, they found a match within a few months. After having more tests to confirm the match, and a visit to Wellington Hospital to get a full medical check done to ensure he was fit and healthy, he was given the all clear to donate.

As Daniel was donating peripheral blood stem cells (one of two ways to donate bone marrow in NZ), he gave himself injections both morning and night in the few days leading up to his donation, in order to stimulate the growth of the stem cells. Having been a loyal blood donor for seven years before joining the Bone Marrow Registry, Daniel was used to needles, so he didn’t mind in the slightest.

He was then flown up to Auckland from Wellington where he spent half a day at the Epsom Blood Donor Centre hooked up to an apheresis machine. This machine collects blood from the body, separates out the stem cells that are to be collected, and returns the rest of the blood to the body. With his feet up and his nose in a book, he donated his precious stem cells over the course of four hours, and easily reached the target number of stem cells that the nurse set out to collect.

“The staff at NZBS were really nice and extremely professional, taking the time to explain the whole process. I felt completely at ease, and aware of what was involved. It was so much easier than I had thought it would be.”

Daniel’s precious stem cells were expertly packaged and personally delivered to a transplant centre where they were infused into the matched patient, making a profound difference to their life, plus that of their family and friends.

And to all those considering becoming a bone marrow donor? “Do it! It really doesn’t feel like a lot to give, and it’s rewarding to know that you’re helping to save someone’s life,” says Daniel.

If you are male and your ancestors were Maori, Pacific Island or any other NZ ethnic minority group, please consider joining the Registry. It could mean the difference between life and death to someone needing a bone marrow transplant.  With your support, more patients can access the treatment they so desperately need.

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