Health beat: U senior leads drive for bone-marrow donors

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2013 - 5:32 PM

Jeremy Olson Star Tribune reporter Photo by Renee Jones Schneider

 

When Greta Diers learned her mother needed a bone-marrow transplant to survive, the University of Minnesota student felt disappointed in herself that she had never really thought about bone-marrow donation.

Diers resolved to spread awareness about bone marrow, especially among young college students who often make the best donors.

“All it takes is to just find the one person who is the match for someone who is looking,” said Diers, a U senior studying advertising. “Anyone could be the one.”

The regenerative stem cells from donated marrow are needed in treatment for people with such blood-related cancers as leukemia. The transplants work best when donors and recipients share genetic characteristics. Sometimes, relatives are ideal matches. Most of the time, cancer patients need random donors — friends or people who volunteer through the Be the Match national registry.

Diers leads the U’s Be the Match club, which is arranging campus events to recruit students to put their names on the donor registry.

A misconception is that the modern donation procedures are painful, she said. “People who have donated … tell me it feels like falling on the ice. We’re in Minnesota. We all do that at least once a year anyway.”

One-fifth of procedures involve donors being put under anesthesia so doctors can draw marrow from their pelvic bones. The majority involve donors taking medication for five days to stimulate production of stem cells in the blood and then having those cells removed in a way similar to plasma donation.

Diers’ mother will receive donor cells from her brother this week in a transplant to treat her leukemia. The family is optimistic, and Diers is glad she is helping others in the meantime.

“While my mom was so fortunate to have a match,” she said. “there are a lot of people who are still waiting.”

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