How do you donate bone marrow?

The New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry (NZBMDR) is in need of more males with Maori, Pacific Island or any other NZ ethnic minority group ancestry to consider becoming a bone marrow donor.

Did you know that by joining the Registry, you can help save the lives of patients with leukaemia and other serious blood disorders that prevent blood cells from maturing and functioning properly?

For many patients, a bone marrow transplant offers much needed hope, and rest assured it doesn’t involve donating any one of the 206 bones that make up the human skeleton. For most people, donating bone marrow is very similar to donating blood.

To be eligible to join the Registry, you need to be a blood donor. This means you need to meet the New Zealand Blood Service Blood Donor Eligibility Criteria, and have donated blood in NZ. When you donate, just ask to be added to the Bone Marrow Donor Registry so that an extra tube of blood can be taken for testing and that’s all it takes!

Once you have joined, the chances your bone marrow will be a match to a patient in need are pretty slim. Only 1 in 1000 donors are asked to donate their stem cells every year. If you do match with a patient in need of stem cells, you will be asked to visit a doctor who will carefully check your health and fitness. While donating bone marrow is not physically challenging, it is vital any donor is prepared mentally and physically. At any stage in the process you can opt not to proceed with the donation.

Bone marrow can be donated in Auckland or Christchurch. If you live outside these cities, transport and accommodation for you and a support person is provided.

Blood DonorBone marrow can be collected via two different ways. The most common and easiest way is a process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection (PBSC). The idea is to collect as many stem cells as possible from one procedure. To encourage the body to increase the number of blood stem cells from the bone marrow circulating in the bloodstream, the donor has to administer an injection of G-CSF (a hormone like substance) every day for four days before donating.  The actual procedure is called leukapheresis, and takes place at a hospital or a New Zealand Blood Service Donor Centre, and takes three to four hours. To collect the stem cells, it is very similar to donating platelets or plasma. A needle is inserted into a vein in the arm and a small amount of blood passes into an apheresis machine which separates and removes the stem cells. The rest of the blood is immediately returned via a needle in the other arm. Many donors have commented on how painless and easy the process is, and it doesn’t require a general anaesthetic.  Afterwards you are able to go home, but if the target number of cells were not collected, you may be asked to undergo another collection procedure.

The other collection process is via pelvic hip bone collection. This procedure does require a general anesthetic, however is slightly quicker, only taking up to two hours. Bone marrow is collected from the pelvic hip bone using a needle and syringe. Recovery time can vary but usually donors can go home the next day and resume normal activities after two or three days.

After the donation, the stem cells are safely stored and sent to the matched recipient, who could be anywhere in the world. The infused stem cells are able to locate the recipient’s bone marrow cavity, and if the transplant is successful, will begin to grow and produce healthy white and red blood cells and platelets.

The simple task of joining the Registry offers much needed hope to patients and their whanau when they need it most.

If you are male and your ancestors were Maori, Pacific Island or any other NZ ethnic minority group, please consider becoming blood donor and joining the Registry here. With your support, more patients can access the treatment they so desperately need.


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