Dig The Well Before You Get Thirsty

Parveez recently donated PBSC to save the life of a Leukemia patient. He is the first marrow donor of 2018 from Houston.

Parveez recently donated PBSC to save the life of a Leukemia patient. He is the first marrow donor of 2018 from Houston.

By P.G. Parameswaran, MD

HOUSTON: A Chinese proverb says “dig the well before you get thirsty.” We are not following this adage when it comes to arming our South Asian community with enough bone marrow donor registrants so that when the need arises there is some one in the large pool who will be a match.

The present dearth of registrants – possible donors – have caused our families to look for a donor at a time when their loved one is already stricken with Leukemia (or other type of cancers needing a bone marrow transplant) and in urgent need of a donor to stay alive.
Every 3 minutes someone gets diagnosed with blood cancer and every ten minutes someone dies from it. As a retired physician who has conducted bone marrow donor drives for many years, I am convinced that the only way to save the lives of our South Asian children and adults with Leukemia who fail to respond to chemotherapy and waiting for a bone marrow transplant is to get 100% of our healthy adults to register and commit to donate when matched with a patient. Is this just a wishful thinking or will our community wake up and do what has to be done?

At any time, an average of 6000 patients with Leukemia are awaiting marrow transplant every day in the USA. About 75% of Caucasians have registered with the National “Be The Match Registry” while the number of registrants from the South Asian community are, at present, very dismal.

The fact that the chances of matching within family members is about 15% to 25% and with a non-relative is anywhere from one in 10,000-100,000, the patient and their families will most likely be disappointed even after conducting several such drives. The best and the only way to avoid heartbreaks and give the patients a fighting chance is for our community to encourage healthy adults to register on their own and conduct ongoing drives.

What are the reasons for this and can something be done to correct this sad situation? One or more of the following reasons may cause you not to register or to donate.

1. Feeling confidant that you or your family member is unlikely to suffer from leukemia. 

2. If you register you will have to donate marrow to a stranger. 

3. Fear of the consequences of losing one’s bone marrow. The amount of marrow that one has to donate is an extremely small percentage of the 92 ounces of marrow that is present in the long and flat bones of a healthy adult. Donating this small amount of marrow is safe and will have no ill effect. The marrow is restored in about 2 weeks time.

4. Fear of not knowing what to expect and risks associated with the procedure. Prior to the donation process, the donor undergoes a medical examination to confirm he or she is in good health. Depending on the patient’s needs the doctor might decide to obtain the marrow cells by one of two methods, either using the traditional technique of inserting the needle in the hipbone under local or general anesthesia under sterile conditions in the operating room. (There could be some pain at the site where the needle is inserted in the hip for a couple of days which is easily relieved with pain pills) or obtain stem cells from the peripheral blood (PBSC). The same blood forming cells that are found in the bone marrow are also found in the circulating peripheral blood.     

One of our community members, Parveez recently donated PBSC to save the life of a Leukemia patient. He is the first marrow donor of 2018 from Houston. He donated PBSC to save the life of the person who was in urgent need of the transplant. Without this transplant the patient could die. Fifty-five year old Parveez said, “After several years of being listed on the registry, when I received the call that I was a match, I received full support from my wife, children, brothers, sisters and rest of the family.

My family was so supportive that my 17-year-old son gave me a ride on the donation day and my aunt came with us to give us company. The support did not end at home; it continued at my work place as well. Although I had some soreness after the donation for two days, it was very humbling experience. I have recovered completely and resumed my life at work and home and am now desperately waiting to hear about the recovery news of my recipient.”

To register in the “Be The Match” directory please contact any one of the following. After you register encourage friends and family to register as well — the only way to “dig the well before you get thirsty”

Gaytri Kapoor, Donor Contact Representative, Phone: 281 780 1379, Toll free : 1888 482 5663 or visit https://bethematch.org/ for more information. Contact the Indian American Cancer Network (IACAN) which conducts bone marrow donor registration drives regularly at 713 370 3489 to find out the date and location of the next drive or visit www.iacannetwork.org

The author is grateful to Gayatri Kapoor for her assistance in providing the statistics and donor information.