I went in thinking that they would only need a small vial of blood (that's how much I gave them when I first got on the registry). When I sat down in the chair, the nurse took out a box with six empty vials and proceeded to extract blood from my arm. Six?? That seemed like a lot, especially since I hadn't eaten breakfast. But when those were done, the nurse took six more vials out of the box and filled those also.
I had some orange juice and a donut afterwards so that I wouldn't pass out.
About a month later, they called me and told me that I am indeed a match. They wanted me to come in for an informational session so that I could make an informed decision about whether or not to do it. Still, I thought to myself, I can't imagine declining. What if someone in my family or someone I love needed bone marrow? I would hope that the matching person would do it. Even today, when I start to get nervous about the procedure, I think about her family and how happy they must be that I'm giving her this chance. Then I feel much calmer.
I spoke to a doctor and the representative from the blood center that had been assigned to me (Susan Flemer). They were both extremely nice and sensitive. They informed me that they wanted to do a procedure called apheresis instead of collecting bone marrow from my hip bone. Apheresis is an easier procedure because it's not an operation and there's no anesthetic needed. Apheresis is also referred to as PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) donation. See, what the recipient really needs is stem cells. Most of a person's stem cells are in their bone marrow, hence the reason for extracting bone marrow in order to get the required amount of stem cells. But there are actually a few stem cells just floating around in a person's circulatory system. Not many though.
So what they're going to do to me is give my injections of a natural hormone called Filgrastim that will increase the number of stem cells in my blood. Then they'll hook me up to a big filter that will take blood from my left arm, take out the stem cells, and then put the rest of the blood back into my right arm. Of course, there still won't be a whole lot of stem cells in my blood, so the whole procedure may take as long as six hours.
Also, they need to give me injections of Filgrastim every day during the five days before the procedure. And Filgrastim has some possible side effects -- achey bones, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, insomnia, etc. The most common side effect is achey bones, but they told me that Ibuprofen would take care of that. The other side effects are felt by only a very small percentage of patients.
I agreed to go through with the apheresis, but I told them that my company is sending me to Boston at the end of August for a week or so. They needed to give me a complete physical, so they scheduled it for the day before my flight. And if that went well, I could start the Filgrastim injections sometime after Labor Day.
I told most of the people I knew about the upcoming procedure and I was surprised at some of the reactions. One person told me it was the sweetest thing she had heard of in a long time and it almost brought tears to her eyes. Other people told me what a great thing it is that I'm doing and called me "heroic".
I don't know how to react to them. I think anyone would try to save someone's life if they could, wouldn't they? Plus, I have a hard time taking compliments, so I usually just kind of stammer and say thanks or something.
One of the issues that is most surprising to people is that this procedure is anonymous. People say, "You don't even know her?" Some day, we may get to meet, though. After one year, if we both want to meet each other, the hospital will let us exchange phone numbers and addresses. But as soon as the procedure is over, we can exchange anonymous notes through the hospital. I think I'll send her a little note when they're done collecting my stem cells, but I'll leave it up to her to decide whether or not she wants to meet me.
I just hope that she does well and that her body doesn't reject my stem cells. She has to go through chemotherapy which will destroy all of her bone marrow and stem cells, so her body will be relying on my stem cells. They're good little guys though, so I think she'll get along with them.
Good luck, recipient!