Fred Craig was 50 years old when members of his Washington, D.C. church convinced him to donate some of the innermost tissues in his bones to an unnamed recipient.
The year was 2000 when a spring bone marrow drive at the Dupont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church added his name to the only donor registry in the country- the Be The Match registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).
Less than six months later he got the call. The make-up of his body tissue matched another American with one of the many cancers or blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, that required a bone marrow transplant.
“There was a need, and it was as simple as that,” Craig told the AFRO, when asked what made him sign up. “The drive was in response to a church member who had some form of a blood disease. They passed away from it and that could have been prevented.”
Leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and immune deficiency disorders are all conditions that could require a transplant.
Craig said the National Institutes of Health (NIH) carried out thorough testing and a physical exam before clearing him as a donor healthy enough to give bone marrow.
The tissue was taken from his pelvic area and Craig said he could have gone home the same day, but chose to stay overnight for observation. And though others might disagree, Craig said the process “wasn’t painful at all.”
“They gave me some medicine for the pain, but I never had to take it because I didn’t have any.”
The 64-year-old says if he could do it again he would, but medical issues now prevent a return to the donor list.
Fast forward thirteen years, and a lot has changed in the business of getting bone marrow to those in need.
Today, more than four decades after the first bone marrow grafts, there is a robust registry of donors and, thanks to medical advances, African Americans are benefitting more than ever.
“In the past, bone marrow transplants could only be done between people who were completely matched,” said Dr. Richard J. Jones, director of the Johns Hopkins University Bone Marrow Transplant Program.
According to information released by the National Marrow Donor Program, the term “matching” refers to the process of linking together a donor and a recipient with the same tissue type, “specifically their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type.”
“HLAs are proteins — or markers — found on most cells in your body. Your immune system uses these markers to recognize which cells belong in your body and which do not,” says the NMDP.
Jones told the AFRO that HLA proteins are the same markers that that tell doctors whether or not a person will be able to accept a kidney or liver from another body.
Hopkins researchers have overcome biochemical mismatches and now can use any first degree relative as bone marrow source.
“The people we want to donate the most are Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 because we’ve found through clinical trials that younger donors give patients a better transplant and they’re much more robust,
Nadya Dutchin , national representative for Be The Match registry, said donors should be in good general health, and be committed to donating when they are called.
“About 50 percent of the people are unavailable when we call them- either we can’t find them, they don’t want to donate anymore, or their health has deteriorated to the point that they can’t.”
Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, people with fibromyalgia, or communicable blood conditions cannot donate. However, Americans with controlled type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure issues can still make the cut.
Becoming a donor is simple.
“You can fill out the consent form online and someone will mail a cheek swab to them at home.”
For more information on how to become a donor, please visit http://bethematch.org