Midtown Raleigh News

Rex Blood Services opens permanent place to join bone marrow registry

Volunteers who want to become bone marrow donors now can do so at the Rex Blood Services center, the area’s first permanent registration location.

There already are a variety of ways to join the national bone marrow registry, such as at a donor drive hosted by a school or church or by mailing in an at-home testing kit.

Officials are betting a permanent location is one more way to increase the number of potentially life-saving donors.

“We do understand that access and convenience are the name of the game with volunteers,” said Emilie Sanders Watson, donor services coordinator at Rex.

The registry is a list that allows patients with life-threatening illnesses such as blood cancers or sickle cell disease to find a bone marrow match for a transplant.

Bone marrow is where blood cells are made. A transplant replaces diseased blood-forming cells with healthy ones.

The process to join the registry is simple and takes only minutes, said Sanders Watson. Volunteers answer a short questionnaire and swab each of their cheeks for 30 seconds, then hand over their sample for testing.

Korey Kubacki, 42, of Apex was among the first donors at Rex when it began offering the service a few weeks ago.

“It’s so very easy to do,” he said. “Everyone has a preconceived notion that it’s painful, but it’s not. And man, you could save someone’s life.”

The new service at Rex is a partnership between the blood services center and the nonprofit Delete Blood Cancer. The latter is one of a number of donor registration groups that enroll volunteers on the national Be the Match registry maintained by the National Marrow Donor Program.

Bob Murray, a donor recruitment coordinator with Delete Blood Cancer, said the idea of a permanent location is a new one across the county that the group hopes will spread.

The nonprofit wanted to work with Rex because of its dedicated base of blood donors, figuring that it was a natural step for them to become potential bone marrow donors.

Making matches

The goal is simple: get more names on the list.

Every year, 20,000 patients in the United States need a bone marrow transplant, and only about 30 percent will find a match within their family, according to federal data.

While Be the Match has 11 million potential donors listed and access to a global network of 22.5 million, matches still are difficult to come by, especially for patients of racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Doctors are in search of donors with genetic markers that closely match those of their patients. A match is most likely to be made among those who share the same racial or ethnic heritage.

“The important thing is we need more people on the registry to improve the odds of finding a match,” Murray said.

Those on the registry may be asked to donate in one of two ways. The first, used in about 75 percent of cases, is by a peripheral blood stem cell donation, a nonsurgical, outpatient procedure similar to donating platelets or plasma.

The second is a bone marrow collection, an outpatient surgical procedure done under anesthesia that draws marrow from the hip bone.

Donors do not have to live in the same place as the patient in need.

Because matches can be so difficult to find, Murray said it’s critical that potential donors be serious about their commitment to volunteering if they get the call that they’re a match.

“You’re that person’s last phone call, so we need you to say yes,” he said.