From registration to donation: what happens if you are called upon as a match?

9 February 2017

You’ve swabbed your cheeks

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You either registered online and completed your swabs at home, or you registered at a donor recruitment drive. Once we have received your swabs, we send them off to our specialist laboratory to be typed.

Your HLA has been typed

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When the swabs are received by the lab, they are analysed to determine your Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) tissue characteristics. HLA tissue characteristics are much more complex than matching blood groups. HLA are ‘markers’ that identify cells that belong to you. Your body uses this information to determine ‘friend or foe’ and generally the immune system will attack anything not marked as ‘friend’. Once your HLA is typed, you become live on the UK and International registries and can be searched for as a potential match for anyone around the world.

You’ve been matched in a search for a patient

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In 70% of cases, a matching donor is not found within the patient’s family. A search is then carried out to find an unrelated match. The national registry is searched first, but the search regularly goes global, checking all international registries to find the best possible matched donor. There is only a 4-5% chance that you are one of the lucky few who have a matching tissue type with someone in need of a blood stem cell donation.

You’re now in confirmatory typing

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When you are matched to a patient, you will go through the Confirmatory Typing (CT) process. You will be contacted by DKMS and they will guide you through each step. You will be requested to have a blood test at your local GP or hospital and will be asked to complete a medical questionnaire and consent form. There will most likely be a small number of other potential donors at this stage, who will also be going through the same process. During this time, you will be reserved for this patient while their clinical team decides on the best possible donor from their shortlist.

You’ve been selected

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After the CT process, the patient’s clinical team will select the best possible donor from their shortlist. If you are the best match for the patient, you will then go through to the ‘Work-Up’ stage in preparation for your donation. You will have a further medical assessment and consultation at a specialist collection centre (where you will later donate your blood stem cells). The patient’s clinical team will request that you donate in one of two ways. It is important that you are comfortable with both methods, as the patient’s medical situation determines which one is most suitable.

You’re going to donate

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You will now donate via one of two methods:

  • Peripheral blood stem cell collection is the method used 90% of the time. You will receive injections of a stimulating factor called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) for four days prior to your donation. This is simply to stimulate your blood stem cells in the bone marrow into the blood stream ready for collection. These injections are administered by a nurse at either your home or work. For the actual donation, a needle is placed into one arm and your blood is circulated through an apheresis machine, which acts as a filter to remove the blood stem cells. A second needle then returns the blood through your other arm. The whole process takes about approximately 4-6 hours and you can return to work within one or two days.
  • Bone marrow donation is a slightly longer process, involving a general anaesthetic and a two night stay in the hospital. A thin needle extracts bone marrow from the back of your hip bone (not the spine), from which blood stem cells are collected. It is said to feel like you have taken part in a tough rugby game and you can return to work within a week.

Throughout the process, the team at DKMS will be there to guide you and make sure you are well informed and answer any questions you have. The team will also follow up with you regularly after your donation and provide ongoing medical support and information.

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You could go on to save a life!