It was a sombre ride home from school. My dad said he had something to tell us, and we knew by his ghost-white face, and his serious tone that it wasn’t good. The last time he had behaved this way on the drive home, my cat had been killed by a car. This news would prove to be much worse.
When we got home, both of my parents sat my sister and I, aged fifteen and sixteen years old respectively, down on the couch and informed us that my mother had leukemia. I began to cry. My sister disappeared to her room, and did not re-emerge until the next day.
But we were lucky. My mom’s sister was a match for a bone marrow transplant. By the time I turned seventeen, my mom was in remission. It wasn’t an easy process, and she still has lingering side-effects over twenty years later, but she is alive, and we are eternally grateful.
Not everyone is as lucky. A little boy in my kindergarten class not only had no sibling match for his transplant, he had no siblings. His parents even had a baby to try and literally create him a match, but as loved and wanted as his baby sister was, she didn’t have the right genetic markers to save him. He too caught a stroke of luck. He matched with a stranger on the bone marrow donor registry, and that person saved his life – twice.
With thirty-million people on the bone marrow donor registry, it seems like finding a match would be easy – but it is not. We were told that if my mother didn’t find a familial match, they would try the registry, but her odds of finding a match there would be small. This is what an expectant mom of twins in California is facing right now. Desperate to save her life, she is asking anyone who is eligible to donate to please get tested. The registry is a numbers game. Simply put, the more people who register, particularly from all different genetic backgrounds, the more likely someone in need will find a match there.
The test is simple. When I registered as a potential donor as a teenager, it was a blood test. Now, it’s a simple cheek swab, just like taking those ancestry tests that are all the rage now. It’s unlikely you will ever be called to donate, but if you are, the procedure to collect bone marrow pales exponentially in comparison with the opportunity to save a life; a life like this mom and her unborn twins, or the little boy in my kindergarten class.
And bone marrow isn’t the only way to save a life. On average, twenty people die each day in the US because of organ shortage for transplants, but one donor can save up to eight lives. I will admit, I don’t understand how anyone could choose not to be an organ donor. I cannot wrap my head around throwing away or burying or incinerating something that could save the life of another human being. What I do understand is people not being informed on how to give this gift of life, or not giving it more than a passing thought.
If you would like to learn how you can save a life, I'm more than happy to provide the information you need for the bone marrow donation registry and becoming an organ donor.
If you are in Canada, to get your name on the bone marrow registery, this website has everything you need to register laid out in simple steps. It involves reading about the procedure, answering a few questions, being sent a kid to collect a sample from your mouth, and sending it back. It is incredibly easy and straightforward.
Outside of Canada, you can follow similar steps here.
For organ and tissue donation, the first thing to do if you want to be an organ or tissue donor is to tell your loved ones. Tell them your wishes and remind them periodically. If it comes down to it, knowing your wishes explicitly will make things much easier both practically and emotionally during a very difficult time for them.
The next step is to register.
In Ontario, you can do so by going to this website.You can also check your status there to verify you are registered if you have signed up to do so in the past. I just checked mine, and I’m good to go.
Health Canada has links for each province to register as a donor, as well as info on donating blood.
In the United States, this website walks you through the steps to register to become a donor.
Registering to be a bone marrow or organ donor takes minutes, but the impact it could have is priceless. Please consider taking a few moments of your time for the chance to give another person the gift of life.