September 26, 2012 - Folks always hear a lot about the importance of giving blood or becoming an organ donor, but they rarely hear about the need for bone marrow donors.
Darrell Anhel (click for larger version)
Darrell Anhel, a 2002 graduate of Oxford High School, knows about the need first-hand as he's been called upon to donate twice in the last five years.
"I couldn't sleep at night if I passed up those opportunities to possibly save someone's life," he said.
Anhel is a proud member of the National Marrow Donor Program's "Be the Match Registry."
Just last week, he donated some bone marrow to help a 16-year-old boy suffering from leukemia.
"I try to put myself in somebody else's shoes," he said. "I can't imagine being a 16-year-old kid and going through all that on top of the normal stuff teens deal with."
A bone marrow transplant is a lifesaving treatment for people with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases.
After patients undergo chemotherapy and possibly radiation to destroy diseased marrow, a donor's healthy blood-forming cells are injected directly into the patient's bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply, according to the program's website www.marrow.org.
For a patient's body to accept these healthy cells, the patient and donor must be a close match. Unfortunately, 70 percent of patients do not have a donor in their family, so they must rely on the national registry to find an unrelated bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood.
"People sometimes wait years for a match," Anhel said. "They always start with the family first, but a lot of times that doesn't work out, then they go looking on the (registry) list."
Anhel signed up for the registry back in 2002 as a freshman at Oakland University. Someone approached him about doing it free of charge as he was walking out of class.
"They swabbed my mouth with a cotton swab and then I signed a form," he said. "That was about it."
Anhel didn't give it a second thought until 2007 when he was contacted and told he was a match for a gentleman in his late 60s.
"At that time, I had completely forgotten that I had signed up," he said.
His first time donating was relatively easy and pain free.
"It wasn't an invasive procedure," Anhel said.
He made what's called a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. The nonsurgical procedure entails a donor taking a drug called filgrastim for five days prior to donating. The drug increases the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream.
Through a process called apheresis, a donor's blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.
Anhel's second experience, which took place Sept. 17 at Karmanos in Detroit, wasn't so simple. This time he donated actual bone marrow, which involved him being anesthetized and the doctor making four incisions, then using needles to extract liquid marrow from the back of his pelvic bone.
"I think the procedure took about two hours, maybe a little over two hours," Anhel said.
When this reporter talked to him on Sept. 20, he said, "I'm still pretty sore."
Anhel was in bed all day Sept. 17-18. He said it will take three to 10 days for "the soreness to wear off," then about six weeks to "completely recover."
Despite the pain and discomfort, Anhel has no doubt he did the right thing.
"Even if I give the kid an extra month, a couple days of pain is definitely worth it," he said.
Anhel sincerely hopes people reading this list will take some time to seriously consider becoming part of the Be the Match Registry.
"There's such a demand for it," Anhel said. "They have a long list of people waiting to get these bone marrow transplants and there's so few people that are actually on the registry list."
The registry particularly needs people between the ages of 18 and 44 because research indicates cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants. Doctors choose registry members age 18-44 more than 90 percent of the time.
However, donors between 45 and 60 years old are also more than welcome to sign up as long as they meet health guidelines and are willing to donate to any patient in need.
Joining the registry means making a commitment to stay on the list until age 61 (unless a donor asks to be removed); consider donating to any matching patient; keep the program updated about any significant health changes or changes in address; and respond as quickly as possible when contacted about potential matches.
Anhel said when a match is found, representatives from the Be the Match Registry give donors as much information as possible. It ranges from DVDs about the entire process to the opportunity to speak with other donors about their firsthand experiences.
"They're really good at explaining the whole situation," he said.
And just because a match is found doesn't automatically obligate a donor to undergo any procedures.
"It's a voluntary thing every step of the way," Anhel said. "They don't force you to do anything."
It costs about $100 to add a new member to the registry. That includes the cost of testing to match donors to searching patients.
Financial contributions from others help cover the cost of adding new members, however, sometimes there's not always enough funds available, so new members are asked to pay some of the registration fees when they join.
For more information about the Be the Match Registry, please visit www.marrow.org
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.