My nephew, who is now 22, had a bone marrow transplant for leukemia when he was nine. The transplant took place the night before Thanksgiving, 1993. The diagnosis was made on April 5, 1993. I will never forget either one of those nights -- the emotions of both are still raw. I have not used the word 'devastated' as casually as I used to since then because my family and I learned what the word devastated felt like. Losing a big game is not devastation -- losing a job is not devastation -- being told your loved one - particularly a child -- has an illness that is probably terminal is truly devastating.
Long story short, his bone marrow donor came from The Netherlands. It is very difficult to find a donor with the exact matching marrow that is needed for a successful transplant. There are over 10,000 types of bone marrow - you only have a 1 in 4 chance of matching a sibling (you get half of your bone marrow DNA from one parent - half from the other so parents won't match you). The match has to be exact or really, really close because the body will fight off the 'invading' marrow if it is seen as 'foreign' by the body, resulting in death of the patient.
My nephew was extremely blessed and lucky. More blessed than lucky, though. He was given 6 months to live, and we found the donor through the National Marrow Donor Program at the end of those 6 months. We worked through the American Red Cross and The National Donor Marrow Program.
I've done a lot of speaking and writing about this inspiring event in the life of my family, most recently in my book about raising all boys, House of Testosterone -- it's a humor book, but a few essays are serious.
I don't think you have to drop what you are doing if you are contacted that you might be a match for someone. Even though Jacob needed the transplant desperately, there were still steps that had to be taken. Lots of info to the potential donor, more testing, etc. I don't think it's usually like, "We need you here now". And you can give at one of several NC hospitals -- you don't have to go to where the patient is.
Nowadays, there are many more people on the bone marrow registry of potential donors than when my nephew was sick. Back then, there were 800,000 worldwide, and now I know there is over 3 million or so last time I checked. Greatly increases the odds. Minorities are esp. needed to have the blood test that puts you on the registry of potential donors because minorities are USUALLY - not all the time, but usually, going to match someone of their own race, ethnic background. Our volunteer group to support my nephew - who is Caucasian -- won a national award in '97 for promoting the registry to minorities.
Now cord blood transplants are also a viable option, too. Those were very rare back when my nephew was sick. He had his transplant at Duke.
Another thing is that the blood test to go on the registry is so precise that it costs about $70 or so. Our group had to raise a lot of $ back then, too, to do the marrow drives we organized - it was only $60 then but we put over 8,000 people on the registry. We raised the $ through going to corporate sponsors - Glaxo was a big one for us as was Triangle Community Foundation. I went to WRAL-TV who agreed to sponsor our first "Marrowthon" drives where people came to take the blood test.
It used to be free for minorities to go on the registry because there was such a dire need for them, but I'm not sure where things stand with that now.
Boy, all of this info comes right back to me - seems like a long time ago, but I still remember all this stuff.
My sons and I were at the "Canes play-offs last year, and we bought a bunch of Relentless arm bands. Our prayers are with Julia; I know it's still at tough struggle after the transplant. If she would like to meet my nephew, I'm sure he'd loved to do so.