While giving blood may seem common place in this age of regular blood drives, those who give are anything but common to those in need. Individuals who agree to be tested and donate bone marrow are rare, and those who know what a peripheral blood stem cell donation is are even rarer. Those who sign up for and are registered to donate marrow and peripheral blood stem cells are more scarce yet.
That’s why Dawn Soeder’s family and friends consider her a hero. The 21-year-old Texas A&M-Commerce math major had given blood in the past — when her busy schedule allowed — since she became age-eligible.
But, about two years ago, after talking with a donor recipient at a health fair, Soeder made a commitment to the National Marrow Donor Program to be tested as a marrow and peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donor. PBSC collection involves collecting blood-forming cells from the bloodstream.
While Soeder shrugs away praise for her actions, her donation allowed a 58-year-old leukemia patient a chance to get to know his newborn grandchild.
“Everybody thinks I’m a hero,” Soeder said. “I’m blessed to be able to do this. I registered as a marrow and stem cell donor. It’s a very rewarding thing, but I’m not a hero. The way I see it, God gave me extra of it [PBSCs], so I could give to help another person.”
When she initially was told she met the qualifications to be a donor through the National Marrow Donor Program, she was excited. When she was contacted about six months ago and told she was a match for a man in Europe who had a rare form of leukemia and needed peripheral blood stem cells, she was more than excited — she was surprised. More times than not matches, which are generally based on heritage, are found only in a close relative.
When asked to come in for more tests to confirm the match and donate as before, she figured “why not? The risk is minimal to self, and I had the option to help save someone else’s life.”
After Soeder underwent the rigorous screening process, both she and the potential recipient were notified that everything matched for the transplant. At that time, either because his condition had improved or gotten considerably worse, Soeder was told, the man opted not to go forward with the donation. Recently, the man contacted the National Marrow Donor Program to continue the process. Again, Soeder agreed to move forward with the process.
“It’s practical to give. Aside from the discomfort and time to come in, everything else is reimbursed — travel, food, hotel,” she said.
Soeder had to go in for two injections of filgrastim, which stimulates the release of blood-forming cells into a healthy donor’s blood stream so they have excess cells to spare. She had one injection four days before and another the day before the donation at Baylor University Medical Center.
The injections made her feel a bit of discomfort, a bit achy because her bones were so full of the cells and caused headaches, but no worse than a light cold, Soeder reports. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, headache, bone or muscle pain, nausea, trouble sleeping and tiredness are all common side effects of filgrastim, a drug commonly given to cancer patients.
Once she donated, however, Soeder simply experienced a bit of tiredness for a couple of days and a bit of bruising around the extraction site, but otherwise was back to normal. Side effects of filgrastim usually disappear after one or two days after the last dose, and most donors report a full recovery within a week of donation.
To donate, Soeder checked in at the Blood and Marrow Transplant Services center located in Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. She spent five hours stretched out on a bed one day while medical experts used tubing to withdraw blood from a vein in one arm, put it through a apheresis machine which separated the blood-forming cells, platelets and some white blood cells from the red blood cells and plasma. Once the cells were separated, the red plasma and red blood cells were returned to her body through her other arm.
Soeder stayed in a nearby hotel for the night, then went back the next day to find out if lab results showed enough cells had been extracted. More cells were needed so the Sulphur Springs resident hopped back on the table and repeated the process.
“I would totally do it again,” Soeder said when asked a few days later. “It was cool, awesome to think I could help someone; The guy that took [the PBSCs to Europe] said [the recipient] just become a grandfather. This will give him time with his grandchild. It was an exciting experience. The people [with the registry program and at Baylor] were so kind and hospitable. They’ll go out of their way to help.”
She’s also hoping that her PBSC recipient will be open to exchanging letters to let her know how he’s doing after a year and possibly even meeting her after two years, the requisite time specified by NMDP guidelines.
Donna Soeder, Dawn’s mom, went with her to the hospital, where she had the opportunity to see first-hand the impact donations as Dawn’s have. Consequently, Dawn says her mom is seriously considering signing up for the NMDP registry as well. And, at least a few of her brothers — twin Dean and older brothers Daniel, Derek and Dustin — have indicated they are “maybe” interested in learning more about being a marrow or PBSC donor.
Soeder encourages everyone to consider signing up through the NMDP registry.
“It’s really sad, most people think it doesn’t really matter if they give or not. So they don’t sign up. Because of that, there’s not enough diversity in the registry. Those considering it, I’d tell sure it’s a little uncomfortable, but not life-threatening and not terrible. And the younger the donor the better, they have less antibodies. The older the more antibodies, especially from women who have experienced pregnancies, it just doesn’t work as well. They’ll take up to age 60. Why not do it? They’ll reimburse you costs, and you have the opportunity to help save someone else’s life,” Soeder said.
Marrow or blood cell transplant could benefit more than 10,000 children and adults with life-threatening diseases each year, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.
Since it began operations in 1987, the NMDP has facilitated more than 33,000 marrow or blood cell transplants for patients who do not have matching donors in their families. On average, the NMDP facilitates more than 350 transplants each month, with more than 4,300 marrow and cord blood transplants in 2008.
Patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphomas or other blood cancers make up approximately 72 percent of transplants facilitated by the NMDP. The remaining patients undergo transplant to treat a variety of immune system and inherited disorders. Only 30 percent of patients in need of a marrow or blood cell transplant find a matched donor in their family. The other 70 percent may turn to the NMDP to search for an unrelated donor or cord blood unit.
Potential volunteer donors for the NMDP registry must be between the ages of 18 and 60. Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska native, Asian, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino and mixed heritage donors are especially needed.
Other health factors considered when screening potential donors included included: AIDS/HIV, allergies, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, back, neck, hip, and spine, bleeding problems, blood pressure, breathing problems, cancer, cold or flu, depression/mental health, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, hepatitis, immunizations, kidney problems, liver disease, lyme disease, medications, organ or tissue transplant, piercing (body, skin, ear), pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, tattoos, travel, tuberculosis, weight.
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