Stem cell donors needed as shortage threatens families in need

Becoming a donor is as easy as receiving a cheek swab.
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 10:29 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - There is an urgent need for more potential stem cell donors worldwide, according to a non-profit.

Representatives with the blood cancer organization “DKMS” believe the pandemic is playing a role in it.

“The last two years, because of COVID, has caused a decrease in donor drives that are able to happen, and that’s devastating for these families and the patients that are waiting for a match,” Olivia Haddox, DKMS Donor Recruitment Coordinator, said.

In December 2021, FOX19 told you about a Cincinnati woman, Kaelynn Speed, who donated her stem cells to save the life of a little boy, Mads Pomranky, who was fighting leukemia.

Haddox says becoming a donor like Speed is easy to do. Once someone signs up, they will receive a cheek swab kit. The sample is then sent to a lab, and the person is added to the donor registry.

According to Haddox, matches are based on DNA, not blood type.

“It’s really incredible - once someone receives those stem cells or that marrow, if it is a different blood type, for the rest of their life, they’ll start producing that different blood type,” Haddox said.

Once someone is a confirmed match and donor, Haddox said there are two ways to collect the stem cells. Most of the time, it is done peripherally over a period of four to eight hours.

“We’ll take blood out of one arm. It’ll be filtered through a machine,” Haddox said. “We’ll collect it, the stem cells, in a bag, and then your blood will actually return back to the opposite arm, so you don’t actually lose any blood that day. You just lose stem cells, which you do regenerate within a few weeks.”

Less often, Haddox said they will collect liquid marrow directly from the bone in an outpatient procedure.

“They put you under,” Haddox said. “It’ll take about an hour or two to remove the marrow, which we remove from your lower back pelvic area using a special syringe.”

The donation is then shipped off to the person who needs it.

“It comes in a bag. They hook it up on an IV, connect it to the patient, and that is what they will receive,” Haddox said.

The stem cells, per Haddox, help rebuild the recipient’s immune system, working as a cure for numerous blood cancers.

That’s why DKMS is hoping more people will sign up for the registry to possibly save a life.

“What we want is what happened with Mads and Kaelynn,” Haddox said. “His doctor searched the registry, and there was someone waiting and ready to go.”

Haddox says there are some side effects for possible donors, like fatigue and soreness.

She added that they are always trying to diversify the registry since matches ideally need to be a 10 out of 10.

To be eligible to become a potential donor, you must be between 18 and 55 years old and in good general health.

Haddox said you can register online or at in in-person event for free.

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