Be The Match is an amazing initiative that matches people willing to donate bone marrow to save a life with people whose lives they can save. Across the U.S. (and the world), life-threatening blood conditions like leukemia leave people in need of marrow transplants every day. For these people, “matches” (healthy people in whom the human leukocyte antigen—HLA—matches that of the patient) can be the best hope in the fight for life.

The greatest need is for donors aged 18-44 (as “cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants,” according to site, and “doctors request donors in the 18-44 age group 85% of the time”), but those as old as 60 can get involved, as well. A 29-year-old friend of mine (who ended up donating) turned me onto Be The Match. From his direct experience, here’s how it works:

  • Once you’ve determined you’ve met the health guidelines, you decide to join the registry online, for free if you’re 18-44 and for $100 (tax-deductible) if you’re 44-60.
  • A cheek swab is sent to you in the mail in 3-7 business days.
  • You swab your cheek and mail it back as instructed.
  • You do nothing until/unless you’re identified as a patient’s potential match, at which point further testing and medical info will be requested (to confirm you’re the best match available on the entire Be The Match Registry).
  • If you’re identified as a patient’s best match: Donation, of either bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells, is arranged. All travel expenses related to donation (including flights and accommodations as necessary) are covered by the patient’s insurance or Be The Match itself. My friend, who lives in Florida, was flown to and put up in NYC to donate bone marrow. He was also given a generous helping of Lyft credit to get around while in town.

Only one in 430 people registered with Be the Match ends up donating, but it’s impossible to overstate the impact of each single donation. For a little time and—at most—a fully covered trip to a U.S. city and a week of light recovery following donation, you can position yourself to literally save a person’s life. And as noted on the site, every step of the process is transparent. At each stage you’ll be asked to:

  • Confirm your willingness to move forward.
  • Sign a consent form.
  • Complete questions about your health so that donation is safe for you and the patient. See medical guidelines when you match a patient for more information.
  • Confirm your contact information.
  • Discuss any questions you have about additional testing and the donation process.

All that said, donation can be serious business. There’s a lot to read up on before you get involved. Be The Match, acutely aware of the stakes, has stocked its website rich with contextualizing information like posts on what a bone marrow transplant involves, how donors and patients are matched, an estimated timeline, donation FAQs, and much more. Do your research if you’re interested, and get involved if you can. It could make all the difference.

To give $: If blood marrow donation isn’t for you, for any reason, there are other ways to help. Here’s the dedicated page for making a financial donation.

 

Ian Livingston

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