Friday, August 5, 2011

Donors needed

I’ve been a whole blood donor for more than 25 years and have close to 90 donations under my belt. During a donation about 10 years ago, I was encouraged to enter my name in Canada’s national bone marrow registry called OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network — not unlike the British Bone Marrow Donor Appeal.

Like most collection databases from industrialized countries, these two registries are part of the larger Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide network that primarily supports unrelated bone marrow searches.

As we know, Brian was the patron of the BBMDA for 15 years or so . . . ever since he heard of a young leukaemia patient who raised money and awareness of the need for bone marrow donors in the UK. The BBMDA was folded recently after it was announced that the goal of having a certain number of donor names on the registry was finally met. 

I would argue, however, that there are never enough names on a bone marrow list because the odds of finding a match between patient and donor is like winning the lottery. Why not try to get as many names as possible to increase the chances of a stronger match between unrelated individuals?

Since being on the donor registry, I have been called twice in the past as a potential match for someone in need of a marrow transplant. Both times I went in for the preliminary blood work to determine if the DNA markers are similar enough between my blood and the recipients. Both times it wasn’t. 

Two days ago, I received a call from OneMatch stating that my name has come up again as a potential match. Third time lucky? Let’s see what the initial blood typing brings. I hope I’m a match since that’s why I signed up for the registry in the first place, but I know the odds are against it.

Asking citizens to participate on the OneMatch network is, in my opinion, a challenge because potential bone marrow donors need to be active blood donors first. There’s the problem. Only 3% of the eligible population in Canada actually donate blood at all. If you do the math, you quickly realize that blood is in short supply given the vast number of surgeries, transplants, and other medical procedures that occur daily. And the fact that our population is going up at a faster pace than new donors can be found.

What about offering an incentive to first-time blood donors which would, in turn, add names to the  unrelated bone marrow registry as well? Here in Canada, there seems to be this notion that donating blood should remain an altruistic activity, motivated merely through compassion. The main argument is that once you assign a dollar value to the process, it attracts people who typically have a high-risk lifestyle.

Is this monetary bottleneck in place as a symbolic gesture or is it simply more efficient to manage the system with an absence of high risk donors to begin with? What I don’t understand is that since ALL blood gets screened anyway, why not get the overall donor numbers up, then worry about eliminating the questionable units of blood once the tests come back? Chances are, we’d probably have more useable blood at the end of the day.

The BBMDA had a interesting Queen-related fundraiser when two buddies from France presented the history of the band as a comic book. The publication’s support of the BBMDA and the Mercury Phoenix Trust Fund no doubt is what convinced Brian to write a foreword to the comic. Although this was a noble effort on the part of the two buddies, I wonder if it brought in more donors.

Altruism be damned. I think Canada should adopt a similar tactic in attracting first-time blood donors. Not specifically Queen-related, but what about making the incentive substantial and not necessarily just a cash reward — something like all new donors in the month of November have a chance at winning a house. I don’t know about you, but that would certainly motivate me to drag my ass down to the clinic if I had never done it before.


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