Happy Thanksgiving – Transplant Update

Happy Thanksgiving – Transplant Update


I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day, so I want to wish anyone who reads it a very Happy Thanksgiving, even if you are reading it on some other day.

In many ways this can be a difficult time of year, as I was reminded this morning when my daughter, Suzanne, told me that her fiancé’s grandfather passed away last night.  Last year, my father passed away on the day before Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, it is good that we have a day when we can pause and give thanks for our blessings – including the times that we have spent with family members and friends who are no longer with us.

This year, we can also be thankful that my brother seems to be doing quite well following the stem cell transplant.  He had been been told that it might be necessary for him to stay in Houston until Christmas  because of possible complications.  Last week, though, the doctors said that is now safe for him to return to his own home in Austin.  For the next few weeks he will need to return to the MD Anderson Center once each week for follow-up testing.  The rest of the time he can spend at home.

Paul’s blood counts are still low, especially his red blood cells.  I believe that it may be a year or more before it can be determined whether the fibrous tissue in his bone marrow will continue to be a problem.  Right now we are simply thankful that he is progressing as well as he is.

We are also thankful for the support that has been provided by many people and in many ways.  As an example, there is an elementary school student in Gilpin County, in the mountains West of Denver, named Sarah Trujillo.  She has never met Paul, but every day for the past three months she has prayed that he will recover.  You have to believe that God hears the prayers of children like her.

So — Thanks, Sarah.  Thanks everyone.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Payments to Stem Cell Donors

Payments to Stem Cell donors


Several days ago I commented on arguments that have been advanced for paying people who are willing to donate hematopoietic stem cells, a practice which is presently prohibited by federal statute (http://ralstoncreekreview.com/2011/10/ethics-and-markets-stem-cells/).  I have more recently come across an article from the journal Blood published in January of this year (http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/content/117/1/21.abstract), stating the reasons why the World Marrow Donor Association continues to believe – as do I – that it is better that stem cell donors not be paid.  The abstract of the article is as follows:

“Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is a curative procedure for life-threatening hematologic diseases. Donation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) from an unrelated donor, frequently residing in another country, may be the only option for 70% of those in need of unrelated hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. To maximize the opportunity to find the best available donor, individual donor registries collaborate internationally. To provide homogeneity of practice among registries, the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) sets standards against which registries are accredited and provides guidance and regulations about unrelated donor safety and care. A basic tenet of the donor registries is that unrelated HSC donation is an altruistic act; nonpayment of donors is entrenched in the WMDA standards and in international practice. In the United States, the prohibition against remuneration of donors has recently been challenged. Here, we describe the reasons that the WMDA continues to believe that HSC donors should not be paid because of ethical concerns raised by remuneration, potential to damage the public will to act altruistically, the potential for coercion and exploitation of donors, increased risk to patients, harm to local transplantation programs and international stem cell exchange, and the possibility of benefiting some patients while disadvantaging others.

National Bone Marrow Awareness Month

National Marrow Awareness Month


I have learned that this month – November – is National Bone Marrow Awareness Month.  It has not been well publicized, but I heard about this from Costco so it must be true.  This is actually the second month this year to focus on bone marrow or stem cell transplants as July was African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month.

If you have read previous posts, you already know how important bone marrow or stem cell transplants are to people with certain blood disorders or cancers.  Each year there are more than 10,000 patients in the United States alone who could potentially benefit from such a procedure, but it seems that appropriate donors are found for less than a third of those.

It is not easy to find a matching donor.  The most likely possibility is a sibling of the person needing the transplant, but there is only about a 35% chance that the sibling will be a match.  If there is not a match with a sibling, the odds become much more onerous.  I have read that for a Caucasian there is only a 1 in 20,000 chance of finding a matching unrelated donor.  For other ethnic groups the odds can be 1 in 100,000.

It should be obvious that the more willing donors there are, the more likely it is that an appropriate unrelated donor may be found.  If you are between the ages of 18 and 60 and  have any interest at all in registering as a potential donor, you may learn how to join the registry at www.marrow.org or at your local blood bank.  The previous posts on this blog will give you a good idea of what is involved.  Being a donor is not all that difficult, and you could save someone’s life.