Health + Wellness

It Doesn’t Take Long to Save a Life – Give a Blood Disease Patient a Chance at Life Today

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Within the next 24 hours, 6 people will be diagnosed with a blood disease.

Anyone in a family or simply, a fellow human being.

Most of us know what it’s like to get a health scare – maybe it happened to us one fine morning, or an immediate family member or a close friend dropped some ominous news one day.

It begins with a jolt of fear, a panic-stricken realisation that there’s something potentially very wrong that we can’t wrap our heads around yet, and eventually melancholia sets in as we wait for the results.

For people diagnosed with a blood disease such as leukaemia and lymphoma, the fear becomes a reality. They are suddenly hit with a piece of news that changes their lives, and those around them, forever. Their bone marrow fails to produce enough healthy blood stem cells to keep up with their body’s needs. For some of them, a bone marrow transplant could be their last hope of survival and in this case, they will have to rely on a donor for help.

A bone marrow transplant is an infusion of healthy blood stem cells from a donor into a patient’s body to stimulate new bone marrow growth. It helps the patient to restore the production of healthy blood cells for them to function normally.

If the patient’s call for a matching bone marrow is answered, the patient will undergo the transplant. Within 2 to 3 weeks, the transplanted marrow will begin to produce normal blood cells, including red cells, white cells and platelets.

It doesn’t take long to save a life.

But it does take long if there isn’t a match. That is why signing up to be a bone marrow donor gives hope to these patients. And it’s simpler than you think.

Why can’t the patient’s family members donate their bone marrow, instead of asking a complete stranger?

Matching donors and patients is more than just matching blood types. Doctors match donors to patients based on their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. A close HLA match between a donor and a patient is the most important matching factor as it improves the chances for a successful transplant.

The odds of a perfectly matching tissue type with that of a patient’s is a staggering 1 in 20,000.

Family members will be tested first, with siblings having only a 25% chance of being a match.

If you’re identified as a compatible donor, it means that the doctors have exhausted all options and you may be the only person who can provide that life-saving bone marrow.

But I’m afraid of pain – wouldn’t the procedure involve surgery?

A bone marrow donation is a safe and straight-forward process!

Things you imagine about the process involving donating an organ is completely untrue!

Less than 5% of the body’s marrow is collected, and your body will naturally regenerate the marrow in 4 to 6 weeks.

There are 2 methods of donation:

The first method is the Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Collection. This is an outpatient procedure that involves the collection of stem cells from a donor’s blood stream. Blood is drawn from one arm and passes through an apheresis machine that filters out the blood stem cells and returns the remaining blood components through the other arm. The whole process normally takes between 5 to 7 hours.

In order to increase the body’s production of blood stem cells, donors will be required to administer daily G-CSF (Granulocyte-Colony Stimulating Factor) injections 4 days prior to the donation and on the donation day itself. After the donation, donors will be given hospital leave to rest and recuperate.

The second method is the Bone Marrow Collection, which is a 45 to 60-minute procedure involving the collection of marrow fluid from the side of the pelvic bone using a needle (not the spine as many come to think). The donor will be placed under general anaesthesia (GA), so no pain will be felt. After the procedure, the donor will be advised to stay in the hospital overnight for observation and will be back home by the next morning.

Wouldn’t there be risks or long-term side effects?

No medical procedure is 100% risk-free. Majority of donors are completely recovered and back to their normal lives a few days or weeks after their donation.

The most common side effects for those who undergo the PBSC Collection may include flu-like symptoms such as headache, bone and muscle ache but they are usually mild and wear off after the donation. Those who undergo the Bone Marrow Collection may feel nauseous for a few hours after the donation due to the GA and may experience a little soreness, but these symptoms will pass within a week or so.

You’ll be in the safe hands of the doctor and a coordinator who will assist you throughout the entire process.

But I don’t have the time to commit to this.

It takes guts, courage and sacrifice to donate a bone marrow. But it’s a small step for donors, and a new lease of life for patients.

Take the first step and sign up to be on the registry today.

I choose to save a life.

  1. Head over to the Bone Marrow Donor Programme website (https://bmdp.org)
  2. Fill in an online form
  3. A swab kit will be mailed to your home within 3 working days
  4. Swab your cheek and mail the sample back for it to be analysed and tested

Your HLA will be primarily checked against any patient who needs a transplant, and if it proves to be an initial match, you’ll receive a call to go for more tests.

If you’re a confirmed match, congratulations! Your commitment to go through with the donation will bring the patient one step closer to having their lives saved.


This article is contributed by the Bone Marrow Donor Programme.  

It is a nonprofit organisation responsible for building and managing Singapore’s only register of volunteer donors who are willing to donate their bone marrow and help those who need a transplant to survive. Its mission is to provide hope for patients with leukaemia, lymphoma and other blood-related diseases by finding them an unrelated matching bone marrow donor, their last hope of survival.

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