DOD Marrow Donor registration drive: A few minutes can save a life

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  • By 60th Medical Group
  • Public Affairs
Each day, thousands of people are waiting for a potentially lifesaving bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow transplants can treat over 70 different potentially fatal diseases.
For many patients, a marrow transplant is the only treatment option that provides a cure for blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases.

First, patients undergo chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Then a donor's healthy blood-forming cells are given directly into the patient's bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply. For a patient's body to accept these healthy cells, the patient needs a donor who is a close match.

Unfortunately, over 70 percent of those in need of a marrow transplant do not have a family member who is a suitable match, and they therefore must rely on finding a match through the National Marrow Donor Program's "Be the Match" Registry to find an unrelated bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood.

"The first step to become a bone marrow donor is to join the 'Be the Match' Registry," said Maj. (Dr.) Bradley McGregor, 60th Medical Operations Squadron hematologist-oncologist at David Grant USAF Medical Center. "Doctors around the world search our registry to find a match for their patients. If a doctor selects you as a match for a patient, you may be asked to donate bone marrow or cells from circulating blood."

The NMDP was established in 1986 to help patients in need and their doctors find a suitable match. Since then, more than eight million people in the United States -- including more than 400,000 service members -- have registered, with the numbers almost doubling since 2000. Additionally, almost 5,000 transplants per year are made possible through the NMDP.

Despite this, many patients are still unable to find a suitable match through the NMDP.
"The more people that enroll in the program, the better the chances that a critically ill patient will find a match and receive the marrow that will save their life," Maj. Mary Crumley, 60th Medical Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron Chief of Pharmacy Operations explained.

The 60th Air Mobility Wing will host several Department of Defense Marrow Donor registration drives from Monday through Friday.

Marrow donor drive booths will be located at DGMC from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at the south entrance and the mini-Exchange located on level 1 across from the dining hall.

A booth will also be set up from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday outside the main entrance of the Travis Exchange. Individual units will also have booths set up at various locations as well. All active duty military members and their dependents, DOD civilians, Reservists, Retirees and others with DOD ID cards ages 18 to 60 are eligible to enroll.

"There are very few disqualifiers from being able to register," McGregor explained. "In fact, many people who are excluded from donating blood are still eligible to donate marrow. If you are not sure whether you have registered before, or whether you qualify to donate, come by and we can answer any questions you may have."

According to McGregor, the DOD marrow donor registration process is quick, painless, easy and free.

"Stop by one of the marrow registration drives," McGregor said. "It will only take a few minutes of your time to address any questions you may have and to fill out our screening questionnaire."

Testing is needle-free. A cotton-tipped swab is rubbed on the inside of your cheek to obtain a few cells. The kit is then sent off to a central lab where the swabs are analyzed and you are registered. In the future, if you are a good match for someone in need of a marrow transplant you will be contacted to see if you are still willing and able to donate.

If you are selected, there will be no cost to you for your involvement. A majority of the time, the process for obtaining the marrow cells is very similar to giving a blood donation.

"If you can spare a few minutes of your time, please register," Crumley said. "You just might save a life."

When else could a few minutes of your time potentially make such a difference?