Marrow Donor: John Ong
“She didn’t get a match and she told me ‘Wah! You’re so lucky!’’’ said John Ong about his wife’s reaction to him getting a match at the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP).
John (top left) with his wife and children
Getting his Match
It was about 8 years after John first registered to be a marrow donor with BMDP when he was found to be a match for a patient who requires a bone marrow transplant.
John was first introduced to BMDP by his wife who was interested in registering to be a marrow donor. She asked him to register with her and he was agreeable. After registering online on the BMDP’s website, they received a package in the mail which had swab kits for them to send their cheek swab samples for their tissue typing to be done.
(Journey of a cheek swab)
Knowing that the process of finding a match was long, John admitted that he did not expect to get a call at all. Despite the years between registering and being found as a match, his motivation to donate did not change and he agreed to donating right away.
“When the coordinator called, I honestly thought it was a hoax!”
I was in awe at how eager he was to donate his bone marrow to which he revealed that he is in fact an organ donor as well. He explained that both himself and his wife have the mentality about making full use of their bodies to help others.
“When I pass away, whichever part of the rest of the body that can still be used, just use it.”
Before the Donation
After receiving the call, John met up with a Donor Coordinator from BMDP a few days later. The coordinator gave him a pamphlet with all the information that he needed to know before he made his donation. From there, he learnt that there are two methods when it comes to donating bone marrow.
One method is the Bone Marrow Collection – a 45 to 60-minute procedure involving the collection of marrow fluid from the side of the pelvic bone using a needle.
The other method is the Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Collection – a 5-7 hour outpatient procedure that involves the collection of blood stem cells from a donor’s blood stream. In this method, blood is drawn from one arm and passes through an apheresis machine that filters out the blood stem cells and returns the remaining blood components through the other arm. In order to increase the body’s production of blood stem cells, donors will be required to administer daily G-CSF (Granulocyte-Colony Stimulating Factor) injections 4 days prior to the donation and on the donation day itself.
John decided to go with the PBSC Collection method. During his full body check-up however, his arms were found to be unsuitable for donation. He was then advised to go through a central line placement, where a small tube would be put into the large vein under his collarbone for the blood stem cell collection.
He consented to the central line and opted to administer the G-CSF injection himself every morning in preparation of the donation.
After the injection, his body started to ache and it hurt the most on the second day. This is a common side effect for donors who undergo the PBSC Collection, in which they may experience flu-like symptoms such as headache, bone and muscle ache. These symptoms are usually mild and wear off after the donation.
“I would compare the soreness to the aches I felt after a rough rugby match back when I was in polytechnic,!”
The whole PBSC process took almost 12 hours. John recalled the process to be well-handled by the medical team and Donor Coordinator who took very good care of him. There was even a nurse assigned to him to check on his blood pressure and on the machine to ensure everything went smoothly.
(Central line placement)
As for the aches in his body, they went away 3 days after the procedure but he assured me that it was not as painful as the aches he had prior to the procedure.
Having gone through the donation once, John expressed his willingness on donating again if he could.
“I would 10/10 do it again if it is required.”
He saw that the medical team and coordinator were very careful in ensuring that he was okay and told him that he has the right to say no at any given time.
There was also a period where the coordinator asked him if he would be willing to draw his blood a second time or go through the Bone Marrow Collection procedure if the stem cell count was not enough on the first try.
His answer to that was “Why not?”
He encourages others to sign up as a marrow donor well but also feels that if you were to donate, it should be your choice to do so and you remain committed in the registry for as long as until you are found to be a matching donor.
“I am just happy to help” – John
Finding a matching marrow donor for a transplant is unfortunately not easy and the odds vary widely, depending on the rarity of the patient’s tissue type. As of now BMDP has 109,000 potential donors but if there were more, there would be a higher chance for patients to find a match.