TCRHCC Sponsors Bone Marrow Donor Drive

May 27, 2005

TUBA CITY, AZ. - Be part of the National Bone Marrow Donor program: how you can help save the lives of other Native Americans.

Matt is almost 7. He loves action figures, Sponge Bob, and messing around with his family. He also has leukemia, a form of blood cancer. David is a teenager. He loves to draw, and would like to go to the American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe. He has leukemia, too.  

Both of these young men are Native American. Both need a very special kind of treatment for their leukemia to give them the best chance of having a healthy life. This treatment is called a hematopoietic stem cell transplant done through a bone marrow transplant, peripheral blood stem cell transplant, or umbilical cord blood transplant.

What does that mean? Hematopoietic stem cells are the cells in your body that make up your blood. They are different from the stem cells that have been in the news lately regarding cloning and other disease treatment. These cells specifically only make other blood cells. They live in our bone marrow- in the cavity inside your bones that looks like it is filled with blood in large numbers. Smaller numbers of these cells are also found in the blood and in umbilical cord blood from newborn babies. These cells have the amazing ability to make new blood cells forever.  

Unlike a regular blood transfusion, where the blood cells will die in about 120 days or less, these cells actually start living in the bone marrow of the transplant host, and can make blood cells for them for the rest of their life if the transplant is successful.  

Like other transplants, it is really important that the donor of the cells has cells that match the patient who needs the cells. If they do not, the transplant will have a higher chance of rejection and failure. There are special markers on the cells that can be tested to see if there is a match. It is much more likely that people of the same race and ethnic group, and specifically Native American Tribe, will be a good match.

Unlike other transplants, bone marrow cells replace themselves in the donor in the period of days. (You can't make a new kidney or liver if you donate to another person.) For these two young men, the more Native American people that are willing to donate their bone marrow, the better chance they will have for a good match, a successful transplant, and a healthy life. They desperately need more Native American people to be willing to donate their bone marrow in case they, or any other children with cancer, need a transplant now, or in the future. What does this mean for a someone who is willing to donate? All that is needed is a blood sample. This sample is typed and the information is stored in the National Bone Marrow Donor registry - a big computer data base of all people willing to donate if the need arises and they match the patient. When a patient is identified who needs a transplant, the registry is searched for a match. If a donor is identified, they are then contacted to see if they are willing to donate.  
This treatment can save the lives of these boys, and many others in the future who need it. There are over 5.5 million people in the registry willing to donate, but the numbers of Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanic people is much less than other races. Because someone of the same race is more likely to match a patient, the more Native Americans in the registry, the more likely a donor can be found.  

The Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation is sponsoring a bone marrow donor drive on Monday, June 13 from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the hospital's Board Room. If you are willing to be a donor, or are just interested in finding out more about the program, please come. You could help save a life.

For more information, contact Dr. Diana Hu at 928-283-2406.


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