So first things first; when you start donating blood, they ask you ‘can we take an extra sample and add your to the bone marrow register’, to which I obviously at some point said yes! This has no effect on you for weeks, months, usually years, maybe never will, until……you get a text.
It’s a simple text! Mine came early on a Friday morning; I rang them back that morning, and I was told that I was one of roughly 3 or 4 people that will have had a text. They ask you various questions such as your current health status, family history of blood cancer or other disorders, are you pregnant, how old are you, are you still willing to give your bone marrow. Following that, they arrange an appointment for you, either at your GP or as it was for me, haematology outpatients at my nearest hospital. This process was very easy! They take 5 bottles of blood and send them off for confirmatory typing, which will decide, of the people who got texts, who was the best match! It was then a long wait!
I received a phone call, still in bed on a Wednesday morning at university! They told me I was the best match for the patient and asked if I was still willing to go ahead! I found it quite hard knowing I was the best match, as you then find yourself in a situation where saying no is detrimental on the patient’s outcome. I was the now patient’s best hope of surviving.
The transplant coordinator at my counselling session was amazing! She ran through some health questionnaires, any questions I had, frequently asked questions from donors, potential dates and ones I couldn’t do and everything in between…..
I would recommend taking an extra pair of ears, so you hear everything! They throw lots of information at you – all essential and you want to hear it all, and some may not go in!
They tell you:
– a tiny amount about the patient (if you want to hear it)
– timescale of potential dates
– what will happen at your medical check
– what happens during the donation
– details of both processes
– forms for travel and food reimbursement
– take 8 bottles of blood to test for infectious disease markers
I spent a few hours at a nearby hospital for a medical check up, where a doctor checked I was basically alive and not suffering from conditions that I was unaware of! They will weigh you, ask your pregnancy status (if applicable), your general health status, smoking and drinking habits and run through a full medical examination including an ECG and Chest X Ray. They will take another 8 blood bottles to test electrolyte level, iron levels, kidney and liver function etc. They will also check that your veins are suitable for PBSC, as if not, you will have to donate via bone marrow donation. Nothing scary!
I picked Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection basically because it seemed safer than a general anaesthetic and less invasive/scary than needles in your hips. But, this required a 4 day course of injections called Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor (GCSF), which is involved in the stimulation of creating blood stem cells. You have GCSF in your body, they just give you a synthetic version in order to create a very large amount of these cells, and as can be expected with any drug, I had some side effects.
By day 4 I had received 3 injections and was due to have my 4th in the evening. The only way I can describe the bone pain was that someone had strapped weights to my ankles and thighs! In general, the worst of the side effects were within the first hour after injection or before going to bed and they weren’t anything 2 paracetamol couldn’t fix!
On the big day, it is safe to say I was bored! Woken up early for breakfast and then waited 2 hours for the nurses to come and get me! They take a few samples of blood and then quickly get you hooked up to the apheresis machine via a venflon in both arms and then they start the machine – quite simple! The blood will leave your right hand arm, go through the machine and then enters your body again through your left arm. My whole blood volume went through the machine 3.8 times – I think that’s quite freaky to think about!
Giving bone marrow in order to potentially save someone’s life, is a big ask! From the first text to the end of the donation is a long process. But, it leaves you with a really good feeling and you’ve hopefully saved someone’s life, as well as changed their family’s life! From now on I will have regular check up phone calls from the Welsh Blood Service and wait to hear if the transplant helped the patient.
You can read Gwenllian’s complete blog here: https://bonemarrowdonationmeresgyrn.blogspot.com