How to Save a Life

‘Save a Life’ is a rather common agenda on most people’s bucket list, noticeable only by its absence on mine.  Since I wanted the pootle list to be realistic – and the more indirect means such as adopting (humans or other animals), or volunteering with a literacy program, did not occur to me – I left this item off. This life saving business is not something I can work towards. Or so I thought.

A tremendous positive fall out of being semi-retired/self-employed/jobless is having the space, both physical and emotional, of connecting with people.  In the last six months, I have met up with many friends, spent time with family, and made acquaintances and friends. One such meeting was over coffee and brownies with a new found friend who is a drive coordinator for DATRI.

Thus it came to pass, that I signed up for being a stem cell donor and expanded the pootle list that one tiny critical bit.

It is popular knowledge that I (nearly) failed biology in high school.  So if I can get this stem cell donation stuff, so can you.

What are stem cells and who needs such donations?

Stem cells are the body’s raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Stem cell transplants are used to replace bone marrow that isn’t working or has been destroyed by disease, chemotherapy, or radiation. So people fighting Leukemia, Thalassemia, and the likes.

How does the donation process work?

Unlike most organ donations, you can donate stem cells and merrily live to tell the tale. You sign up with a donor registry, and if you are a match, you are called to donate your stem cells. The actual process is not very different from a blood donation, except you need some medication in the run up to increase your stem cell count and the blood is pumped back into you.

Who can donate/sign up?

Any person between the age group of 18 to 50, with no major ailments such as HIV, hepatitis B/C, cardiac illness, auto immune disorders, chronic lung disease etc. can be a donor.

Why should I sign up?

The answer is yet another nemesis of mine.

Probability.

You know how they asked you, in all seriousness, if you had 11 black socks and one white sock in a bag, what are your chances of picking a complete pair? And I would be “50/50 – either you pick a complete pair or you don’t. And who is doing your laundry?!”

Turns out that in this game of life, chance plays a big role, and binary does not cut it all the time. There is only a one in four chance that someone who needs a donation, finds a match within their family. For the rest, unrelated donors need to play knight (or damsel) in shining armor. However, the probability of finding a matched unrelated donor ranges from 1 in 20000 to 1 in a million.

If you are Indian/South Asian, all the more reason you should sign up. You see, the chances of a match are closely dependent on ethnicity, due to all that complicated genetic stuff. 73% of the world wide stem cell registry is Caucasian, 7% is African American, and only 2% (yes 2%!) is South Asian. We South Asians seem to have populated the world quite mightily; and if we need to increase the chances of a fellow South Asian’s survival, our percentage representation needs to be a LOT better than 2%.

How can I sign up?

A couple of simple forms need to be filled (contact and personal details) and a cheek swab needs to be given for the stem cell typing to be carried out. DATRI runs the stem cell registry in India.  And you can send for a donor kit by mail.

You can also let me know and I shall be happy to play messenger/courier girl.

Entirely optional but highly recommended is an accompanying check of INR 2,500, to cover DATRI’s cost for each donor sign up and typing their stem cells.

What if I sign up, do I have to compulsorily donate stem cells if I am found to be a match?

No. It is an entirely voluntary process, and you have the choice every step of the way. However, if you are not certain about your intent/ability to donate, think through before signing up. Let’s not raise false hopes.

How else can I help?

Apart from donating money and time, given that is a numbers game

  1. Spread the word and encourage friends and family to sign up
  2. If you are a decision maker in your organization or can influence the powers that are (senior leadership/Human Resources/Corporate Social Responsibility), do help by organizing a drive. The DATRI team will visit and co-ordinate the sign up process

For a complete list of registries worldwide, click here.

Read more about DATRI; and contact them here

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