So, you’re thinking about being a stem cell donor. You’ve signed up for the registry and now you wait. But, what does it look like when you’re chosen as a match? What happens after that?
Being chosen as a potential donor is the first step in an exciting journey of giving the gift of life to another person who desperately needs it. Although the process may differ slightly depending on the registry, you will be asked to provide a second sample for testing, and if you are a good stem cell donor match, the process will move forward.
Next, you’ll get an in-depth medical evaluation at a stem cell donation center near you. This process looks at your health history and makes sure that you’re healthy enough to donate. You’ll also learn more about the procedure and your role as a donor.
For example, you will likely have been swabbed already but you may undergo a blood test as well. It’s also important that you understand the risks associated with the procedure and its potential side effects, so be sure to ask for more information if you need it. During the blood test, the team will look for any genetic similarities between you and the recipient. If all goes well, the donation process can begin.
Once the medical team has determined that you are eligible to be a stem cell donor, you will then start the donation process. This can involve donating through peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection or bone marrow aspiration — depending on what type of stem cells the recipient needs.
PBSC donation requires a series of injections that are given over a few days to stimulate stem cell production. During this process, the donor will visit a donation center either once or twice a day to receive injections and have their blood taken. Normally on the fifth day, the donor will have their stem cells collected for donation.
Bone marrow aspiration involves a surgical procedure under general anesthesia. During the procedure, a doctor inserts special needles into the donor’s hip bone to extract marrow stem cells. Once the stem cells are collected, they are then tested and processed. If the stem cells pass all necessary tests, they are ready to be transplanted into the recipient.
What about the recovery process? After the donor completes their stem cell donation, they will typically be monitored in a recovery room for several hours. During this time, nurses and doctors will be checking their vital signs to ensure they are in stable condition. Once the donor is cleared, they can usually go home that same day (but some people are asked to stay overnight) and are provided with instructions for self-care following the donation.
The stem cells that were collected from the donor will be used to transplant into the recipient. The transplant is typically done within a few weeks of the donation and can take several hours. After the transplant, recipients will stay in the hospital until their stem cells start to engraft, which usually happens within two to four weeks. When their immune system is back up and running, the recipient can leave the hospital and go home to continue their recovery.
Does it hurt? For the donor, no. The donation process is not painful but may cause some discomfort. Most donors describe it as feeling like a long blood donation. The majority of donors can give two donations within a few weeks, spaced at least 48 hours apart.