WCC staffer donates bone marrow so a stranger might live
Resting comfortably on a hospital bed last Wednesday, Rachel Barsch stared down at the multiple tubes pumping blood out of the catheter in her neck into a machine that gives the blood back without the marrow and wondered why anyone wouldn’t be thrilled with the life-saving opportunity medical science had made possible for her.
Barsch, events coordinator for Student Activities, signed up for the bone marrow registry during last year’s “Be a Lifesaver Week,” – an event she orchestrated – never expecting a call from the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) just nine months later, telling her she’s a potential match for a 51-year-old man in Italy, a man she’s never met before.
“It’s nice to know that I have a genetic doppelganger out there that I can save,” said Barsch, proclaiming her excitement after her notification.
So began her part in a medical miracle. Barsch was asked to go to a clinic in Livonia for a few blood tests to confirm the match. Three week later, she was informed that she was a perfect match and was mailed a box filled with all the supplies and paperwork she needed in order to donate.
Donating a part of your body to save the life of someone you’ve never met, and probably never will meet, seems to discourage many people from signing up with the NMDP, said Barsch, who is committed to changing that mindset.
“There’s over 13 million people worldwide registered to donate. But even with that number, finding a suitable donor for a patient is still a challenge,” said Stacey Prieur, a bone marrow transplant coordinator at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.
Donors and recipients need to have matching degree of human leukocyte antigen (HLA),
immune system genes located on the sixth chromosome. With so many different variations in genes, perfect matches are hard to come by, said Prieur.
After a brief physical, Barsch was told that she would be donating her bone marrow through a non-surgical peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC). Unlike the surgical donation, where the marrow is harvested directly from the donor’s pelvic bone, a PBSC donation uses a machine similar to a dialysis machine to pull blood out of the donor through a catheter, separate the blood cells from the stem cells, return the blood to the donor and pump the stem cells into a collection bag.
Besides the few occasions where she had to travel somewhere, Barsch describes her process for donating marrow as quick and easy, saying moments after the procedure that the only thing that concerned her were possible side effects to the injections she needed to have every day for five days before the donation.
“I’ve been doing these injections for over 20 years and I have never seen anyone have a reaction to them,” said Denise Movro, a nurse contracted by the NMDP to visit Barsch, checkup on her and administer the shot.
Barsch took a deep breath as she received the injection of Filgrastim, the medicine used to stimulate the growth of stem cells in the bones and release them into the blood stream for the donation.
“It burns a little bit, but it’s not that bad,” said Barsch, rolling her sleeve down.
The night before the donation, Barsch stayed in a hotel paid for by the NMDP close to the hospital to shorten travel time.
Barsch’s donation began at 10:15 a.m.
As the machine worked its magic, Barsch watched patients walk lap after lap in the hallway; each patient dragging an IV with them as they pass by the door.
With boredom and idleness being her only discomfort, Barsch taps away at her iPad occasionally glancing at the donation bag to see how full it is.
By 3:10 p.m. Barsch’s donation is finished. A woman carrying a small cooler entered the room, signed a sheet of paper to collect Barsch’s donation, placed the bag inside the cooler and left, marking the start of the donation’s voyage to Italy.
Before leaving the hospital feeling the same way she did when she arrived, a nurse hands Barsch a shirt and a thank-you card from cancer patients at the hospital. The nurse then tells Barsch that the patients she saw walking past the doorway are patients who are receiving bone marrow donations.
“It bugs me that I might not ever speak to the man who’s receiving my bone marrow,” said Barsch. “But knowing that my marrow could save some one’s life makes me happy.”
Anyone interested in signing up for the bone marrow registry can do so by attending the “Be a life saver Week” in the Morris Lawrence building this week, April 9-13, or you can sign up online at http://bethematch.org.