Playing matchmaker with someone’s life

I recently completed my donor kit for Be the Match. It was so ridiculously fast and easy that I felt awful that the envelope had sat untouched on my desk for close to a month. I guess I thought it would be more involved and that I should set aside time to complete the program correctly. Nope. I should have done it a month ago, and I encourage you to join me (but to do so more quickly than I did).

Here’s the deal: Be the Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. NMDP estimates that at least 10,000 Americans with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases need bone marrow transplants. The closer the match, the better the chance of having a successful transplant (and saving a life). Unfortunately, finding the right match can be a challenge. This is where people like you and I come in. NMDP’s Join Now page walks you through some simple questions about your age, gender, race (the program desperately needs ethnically-diverse donors), and general health. There’s a consent form to sign, some contact info to fill out, and NMDP mails you a kit that includes really long Q-tips (yeah, I’m oversimplifying). You swab the inside of each of your cheeks with these Q-tips, slide them back into the kit and drop the postage-paid envelope into the mail. That’s it!

Now, you go on with your life grateful that you’re not on the other end of the program: waiting for someone to pop up as your lifesaving match. Unless you request to be removed from the program, you’ll be listed on the registry until age 61 (older cells are less likely to be helpful). What are the odds that you’ll be called on to help? About 1 in 540. Younger donors between ages 18 and 44 are 10 times more likely to be needed. And as noted, people of different races are also in high demand.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to donate marrow since I’ve never done it (the cheek-swabbing, though, was painless). NMDP’s site says a hollow needle is used to withdraw liquid marrow from your pelvic bones. Yes, that sounds uncomfortable, but you’re numbed. Or you might be asked to go through a procedure similar to donating blood.

Joining Be the Match is free. Of course, NMDP incurs costs to test every participant, so donations are always welcome. And if you don’t think you could actually go through with donating marrow, don’t waste NMDP’s time or resources. But do consider making a tax-deductible contribution.