Patients Struggle To Find Life-Saving Bone Marrow Donations


Gabby Carter was only months old when she was rushed to the hospital, her spleen full of damaged red blood cells. That day, Gabby became diagnosed with sickle-cell disease. Now, at age 5, she is continuing her ongoing battle with the disease. Her only hope for a full recovery is a bone marrow transplant—but the chance of finding a bone marrow donor who is a perfect match is devastatingly slim. Generally, there is only about a 30% chance of finding a donor who is a perfect match, and the odds are much less for minorities, who are extremely underrepresented in the pool of bone marrow donors. The rare opportunity for Gabby to receive a bone marrow transplant from a perfect match did arise once… until the donor decided to back out. However, despite these odds, Gabby and her mother refuse to give up hope.

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For the 30,000 people suffering from fatal blood diseases such as sickle cell, leukemia, and lymphoma, only about 2% of Americans are on the national bone marrow donor registry. This shockingly low number can easily be boosted if the number of donors were to increase. Donating marrow is unlike donating a vital organ, such as a kidney, as bone marrow has the ability to regenerate itself. Gabby’s mother, Debbie Carter, urges people to register as bone marrow donors and potentially help save another person’s life. “For you, it’s only a couple of days,” she says. “For her, she becomes normal. She’s cured. She gets to grow up—do things that people take for granted.”

Finding a match for a bone marrow transplant and is much more difficult than finding a match for blood, in that a bone marrow donor must be compatible with the recipient on a deep genetic level. In the meantime, as many as 3,000 people die per year waiting for that match, and thousands more die from complications that arise from marrow that is a from a close-but-not-perfect match.

Another issue that arises is that, of the miniscule percentage of bone marrow donors in the U.S., only one-fifth of them are minorities. Bone marrow, its formation being deeply dependent on a person’s genetic makeup, means that a transplant must be very specific to the donor’s and the recipient’s ethnicity. People of mixed ethnicity have especially lower odds of finding a match.
For example, a person of Chinese-German-English descent would need a donor of this same specific mix, not just generally Asian and white. The severe bone marrow donor shortage is a growing concern, as many more children are being born of mixed ethnic backgrounds.

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The bottom line is: the more people who are willing to help by donating their bone marrow, the likelihood of finding a perfect match for the thousands of patients in need increases. Patrick, a bone marrow donor, looks at his experience donating blood as something bigger than himself. “The shots were like getting the flu, but it’s only for five days and you’re giving someone a lifetime,” he said. “I was the match for a 2-year-old little boy. I just want him to have a long and healthy life—to have every opportunity I had.”

You can look into donor registration stay updated on events such as bone marrow drives by liking this Facebook page.


Related Stories:

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Dying Immigrant Denied Kidney Transplant Because He Is Undocumented

Hospital: No Kidney Transplant for Girl With Disabilities


Image from Thinkstock


Scott Parrish
Scott Parrish2 years ago

The US needs to allow gay men to donate Bone Marrow. This is scary to think that someone's match is being prevented from donating. I know I will have to lie if I am needed. I know for a fact that I am healthy. If I have to tell a white lie to save a life then so be it.

Debbie W.
Debbie W.5 years ago

I respect everyone on their choice to donate bone marrow or not. I wonder if everyone would have the same views if they or their dying child needed a bone marrow transplant. I could never live with the guilt that someone might have died because I backed out of my commitment. Then again, I respect each person's decision.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

Much needed article, thanks

Anna Borsey
Anna Borsey5 years ago

According to this article, "there are millions of possible marrow types". In the light of this, exactly HOW is it going to help, paying people for their bone marrow? Will paying the donors ensure a perfect match for everyone who needs a bone marrow transplant? Of course not. Will there suddenly be a donor for every single person in need? Of course not. Given the melting pot that the USA is, most US citizens are of VERY mixed ancestry indeed. What are the chances that someone with eight different ethnicities in their ancestry finds a perfect bone marrow match, with or without the incentive of money changing hands? Extremely remote, I would say. The more ethnicities in your ancestry, the harder to locate a perfect match. It has to be a perfect match too, as anything less will not be acceptable to the body, apparently.

You are being disingenuous here, as it is very painful to donate bone marrow (ask any doctor who knows about this procedure!) and far from straightforward. It is certainly NOT in the least comparable to donating a pint of blood every 3 to 4 months - far from it!

Yes, our bodies and minds are our own property - so far. I will most certainly NOT sign up to be a donor, with or without payment! I do not want to expose myself to the sustained pain and discomfort that this entails, and who will compensate me for loss of earnings, all the pain and the nasty aftereffects? What if something goes wrong and I am somehow injured and need to take drugs for the rest of my

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

DORIS L5 years ago

I clicked..

ANA MARIJA R5 years ago

Thank you for the article.

eusebio vestias
Eusebio vestias5 years ago

Eu também digo o mesmo sinto muito o que eu posso dizer e bos sorte

Carol M.
Carol M5 years ago

The best donor would be your healthy young brother.
I think a lot of people are discouraged about donating because of the pain involved and the recuperation time for the donor. It's a long journey until you feel well again.

Sharon A.
Sharon A5 years ago

I know a lot of people who would donate but they are told they are over 60 and therefore cannot. Why??