Be a Donor—Save a life!

Emory Bone Marrow Transplant Center logoAs medical director of the Emory Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center at Winship, I oversee a potentially lifesaving procedure that offers hope for survival to many patients with bone marrow disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndrome, immune deficiency and other blood diseases. Some patients can use their own cells for the transplant, but others require a donor because their own marrow or immune system is diseased. In this sort of transplant, the patient’s sick marrow is destroyed, and replaced by the donor’s normal marrow and immune system. If it works, it can cure a person who may not have other options!

Who can be a donor?

The best bone marrow or stem cell donor is a compatible brother or sister. Unfortunately, most people who need a transplant don’t have a brother/sister match, so we have to go to the Be The Match Registry, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, to try to find a compatible donor.

What is the Be The Match Registry?

The registry is really a large database of people who would be willing to serve as donors for patients who need a transplant and don’t have a family donor. The database is set up in such a way that doctors can search for the most compatible potential donors based on typing that is done when a person joins the registry.

What do I have to do to join the registry?

There are several different ways to join the registry: you can sign up online, you can attend a donor drive, or you can sign up when you donate blood. What’s required is some simple health information to make sure you are eligible to be a donor, and a sample of either blood or a scraping from the inside of your cheek. The sample goes to a lab for typing, and that typing information goes into the database.

What if I match someone who needs a transplant?

First you would be contacted by the donor center and asked to come in to provide a second confirmatory sample. If you are a confirmed match, you would be called again and asked to go through a full medical examination, more blood work, an EKG, and a chest Xray. If you pass all of the tests, you can be the donor!

How does the donation itself work?

You could be asked to donate stem cells (think of them as marrow seeds) from either the bone marrow or the blood. If you donate marrow, you would be taken to the operating room and marrow would be extracted from the hip bones (under anesthesia). The extraction takes an hour or two, and you would go home that same evening. If you donate blood stem cells, you would first take growth factor shots for a few days, and then on the day of the donation you would be connected to two IV lines so that your blood could be circulated through an apheresis machine that extracts the stem cells and then returns the rest of your blood back to your system. The whole process takes about four hours, and most of the time can be done in a single day.

Many of our patients mark the day they get a bone marrow or stem cell transplant as a second birthday, a literal re-starting of their immune system and a new chance at a healthy life. Registering to be a donor is an invaluable gift to them.

This Weekend!

Winship staff are teaming up for the Be The Match Walk/Run in Atlanta on Sat., April 26. This fundraiser supports Be The Match Registry, the largest and most diverse donor registry in the world. For more information, go to bethematch.org.

About Dr. Langston

Dr. Amelia Langston, MDAmelia Langston, MD, a Winship hematologist and medical oncologist specializing in the treatment of leukemia and lymphoma, is medical director and section chief of the Emory Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center, which has performed over 4,000 transplants for patients with blood cancers and diseases. She is also a professor of hematology and medical oncology in the Emory School of Medicine.

Dr. Langston’s research interests include novel strategies for autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplantation, use of biologically targeted agents for anti-leukemic therapy, and prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections in immunocompromised patients.

Dr. Langston received her MD from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Durham North Carolina, followed by a Medical Oncology fellowship at the University of Washington Hospitals.

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