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5 steps to take after deciding to become a bone marrow donor

Each year, thousands of people across the globe receive bone marrow transplants. While that might make donating bone marrow seem like an ordinary act, it's anything but. Donors are genuine heroes who help save the lives of both their own loved ones and complete strangers.

The global transplantation organization Be the Match® notes that the likelihood of finding a fully matched marrow donor depends on a host of factors, including ethnic background. Patients in need of a bone marrow transplant are most likely to match with donors who share their ethnic ancestry. Unfortunately, Be the Match® notes that some groups are underrepresented on the donor registry. For example, Black or African American patients in need of a bone marrow transplant have only a 23 percent chance of finding a match because there simply aren't enough people who share their ethnic background on the registry. By choosing to become donors, people from all backgrounds greatly increase the chances that people in need will receive the transplants they desperately need and ultimately overcome their diseases.

Individuals who want to learn more about what it takes to become bone marrow donors can visit Be the Match at BeTheMatch.org. Once people make the selfless, potentially life-saving decision to become donors, they can follow the following five steps.

1. Join the registry. Joining the registry is as simple as spending five minutes to complete a cheek swabbing kit and returning it in a prepaid envelope. The donor organization Gift of Life makes it easy to order a donation kit via their website at www.GiftOfLife.org.

2. Confirmatory typing: Once a swab kit has been submitted, donors may be contacted and told they are a potential match for a patient in need. Confirmatory Typing is a test to confirm the results of a swab kit and identify just how closely a donor and patient match up. This step involves a blood test.

3. Work-up: If the blood test confirms a match, donors will be given the option to proceed. Those who choose to do so will participate in an information session about the donation process. Donors can ask any questions they have, as the goal of the work-up is to provide as much detailed information to donors as possible. Donors are encouraged to bring a family member with them to the information session as an extra set of ears and to provide support. The work-up stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and during this stage, donors will be given a physical exam to protect their own health and the health of the transplant recipient.

4. The donation: Bone marrow is donated through a surgical procedure, which will take place at the same location as the physical exam.

5. The transplant: The final step, and arguably the most rewarding, is the transplant itself. Unless they're donating to a family member, donors will not be present for the transplant, but they can rest easy knowing they saved a life.

Gift of Life receives periodic updates on recipients' recovery, and may share this information with donors.

Learn more about bone marrow donation at www.GiftOfLife.org.

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