Bone marrow donors urgently needed


One person's gift gives another life

November is National Marrow Awareness month, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is encouraging people to help save lives by registering to be a potential donor.

On any given day, thousands of men, women, and children are searching for a life-saving donor. These are people who are diagnosed with leukemia, anemia, myelodysplastic disorders, and other diseases that require treatment by stem cell transplant. Nearly 70% of these patients must rely on an unrelated donor to offer them this precious gift.

Jaime Skillen is one such person who registered with the National Marrow Donor Program and was called upon to donate stem cells to someone she had never met. When asked why she decided to join the registry, Jaime said it was a life-changing experience. "I encourage anybody to join. You never know who's out there who needs you."

Esther Zaff, who received the cells donated by Jaime, explains what Jaime's decision to donate meant to her. "She didn't just give me back my life, she gave me back my whole world," said Esther. "Every day I wake up and I think about Jaime, every single day. Without her, I'm not here."

"Finding a compatible donor is always a challenge, and certain tissue traits of the donor and the patient must match," said Joseph H. Antin MD, chief of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program and medical director of Dana-Farber's unrelated donor program. "The best potential donor most likely comes from the patient's same ethnic group, and many minority groups are under-represented in the national registry. More donors of diverse race and ethnicity increase the opportunity that all people will have an equal chance of finding a matched donor."

Joining the national registry is a simple process and requires only a small saliva test, but becoming a volunteer donor is a serious commitment. Those who join the registry are asked to remain committed until their 61st birthday and be willing to donate to any patient, anywhere in the world, regardless of the patient's sex, age, race, or ethnicity. Such a pledge can mean the difference between life and death for the patient.

"Helping to give someone's parent, sibling, or child a second chance at life is a rare gift," said Deborah Liney, technical director of unrelated donor/transplant programs at Dana-Farber. "Often there is only one matched donor in the entire world. Too often there are none."

For information on how to become a donor please call (866) 875-3324, email nmdpdonor@dfci.harvard.edu, or visit Dana-Farber online at www.dana-farber.org/nmdp.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, a federally designated Center for AIDS Research, and a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, a federally designated comprehensive cancer center.

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