Dr. John Murry is a past University of Saint Mary Board of Trustees member and President Emeritus of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan. He and his family have organized more than 60 bone marrow donor drives in the past year, and are helping to organize the USM drive.
1. Can you tell us about the special bone marrow donor registration event at the University of St. Mary?
An important part of the University of St. Mary mission includes the school's role of "contributing to the well being of our global society." And, that certainly involves students, faculty and staff wanting to help save lives of those afflicted with blood cancers that only bone marrow/stem cell transplants can cure. Successful transplants require a near perfect blood/tissue match between the donor and the recipient and such matches are very difficult to find.
There are some 10,000 patients in the U.S. needing bone marrow/stem cell transplants and about 3,000 die each year because no suitable match can be found. That problem exists largely because only 2% of our population is currently registered with the National Bone Marrow Registry. So, the USM wants to educate its academic community and the Leavenworth community about this critical issue and at the same time try to find a life saving match for some patient in need by conducting a registration drive on Feb. 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the St. Joseph Dining Hall.
2. Who is sponsoring the event and why is it important?
The donor registration event is being sponsored by the USM Nursing Department, the St. Mary National Student Nurses Association and the Office of Student Life. The drive is being conducted with the support and cooperation of DKMS Americas, a national bone marrow donor center. All donor drives are important because of the reasons listed above but college and university donor drives are especially important because students are of the ages that yield the most successful donor matches of all population groups.
Also, all registrants stay on the National Registry until age 61 so college students remain eligible as potential donors for typically 40 years or more. Over the past year, the Murry family has organized 65 donor registration drives and registered more than 10,500 new potential donors. So far, there have been 46 matches surface from those 65 drives and more than half of the matches came from just 5 colleges. That limited experience in itself demonstrates the importance of college and university donor registration drives.
3. What kinds of medical problems require transplants?
Although "bone marrow transplants" remains a term commonly used, the transplants discussed herein are really "stem cell transplants." Healthy donated stem cells, located in the blood stream, provide the cure for a number of bone cancers when conventional treatments such as chemotherapy don't work.
Page 2 of 3 - Examples of different types of blood cancers are leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and sickle cell anemia among others. Blood cancer is the second leading cause of all cancer deaths and kills more children than any other disease.
4. Who is eligible to be a bone marrow donor and what is involved in registering?
Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 55, be in good general health, weigh more than 110 pounds but not exceed a body mass index (BMI) of 40.
To put that BMI in some perspective, a person 6 ft. tall should weigh no more than 300 pounds.
So, the weight limits are quite generous. Also, because the military has its own donor registration program, military personnel are not eligible to register at this USM event.
Registering is a simple and quick process, taking no more than about 10 minutes.
It requires filling out a registration form that mostly involves some personal contact information so that DKMS will know how to contact the donor in the event he/she is a potential match.
Following the completion of the registration form the donor does a quick swab of the inside of the mouth. The registration form and swab kit are then coordinated and sent to DKMS for analysis and processing. That's all that is involved in registering.
It usually takes about three months before the donor officially appears on the National Registry.
5. What would you tell a person who might be apprehensive about being a bone marrow donor to assure them this is a safe painless procedure?
This is an important question because there is much erroneous information among the public about the stem cell donation process, and that has resulted in many people having the impression that donating stem cells is painful.
This is apparently because in the early days of such transplants, the stem cells were routinely harvested by extracting the cells from the marrow in the pelvic bone….and with limited, if any anesthetic. Today, in most cases (about 85 percent) the donations are made by collecting the stem cells from the bloodstream, much like a transfusion.
Blood is streamed from one arm to the other and during that process a fraction of enriched stem cells is extracted.
New stem cells are then regenerated by the donor naturally and quickly. In the much fewer instances when stem cells are collected from the back side of the pelvic bone, the donors receive anesthesia so no pain is experienced during the extraction process.
This is a surgical procedure that involves 1-2 hours as a hospital outpatient.
Some discomfort in the lower back may be felt the following day but during the donation process the donor is either watching TV or is asleep and there is no pain. I personally visited with one young woman who had donated twice via extracting the stem cells from the marrow of the pelvic bone. I asked her if she experienced any pain. "No," she said.
Page 3 of 3 - And then added, "I think the worst part was later when the nurse pulled that small bit of tape off my hip." Not a bad trade off for the opportunity to save a life, I'd say.
— Rimsie McConiga