The Story Continues: Bone Marrow Donation Facts, Statistics, and Other Stuff

Categories: Doctor's Orders
Courtesy of HelpTami.Org

Before I wrote this week's news article, "A Bone Marrow to Pick," about Matthew Nguyen and bone marrow donation, my assumption of the whole process came from watching Grey's Anatomy. It was the third season and Izzy Stevens (Katherine Heigl) had to donate bone marrow for her daughter. In a scene rife with melodrama, there was an abnormally large needle, and enough pain to ensure that she could not even stand afterward.

Then after I found out more about the process via a family member, I realized that such medical drama scenes don't do any favors to patients such as Nguyen, who needs a bone marrow transplant in order to effectively treat, and perhaps even cure, his blood cancer. I've since stopped watching Grey's Anatomy.

Here's the truth to bone marrow and stem cell donation, something that is not detailed in the article and which is not commonly known:

  • A majority of bone marrow donations are done using a non-invasive procedure where blood is taken out of a donor, the stem cells are removed, and the remaining platelets are reinjected into the donor's body. This is called a peripheral blood stem cell donation. To increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream, Filistrim injections are given for five days.
  • The other, less common method, comprises of liquid marrow being collected straight from the bone via a hollow needle. It is done under anesthesia and the donor may feel sore afterward.

But, overall, there are no lasting side effects and the bone marrow replenishes itself in a few days. And unlike some organ donations, the donor can give while still alive with no risks. In this case, to coin a cliche phrase, a little bit does go a long way.

More statistics and ways to register for the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) after the jump:

Courtesy of

What compelled me to find out more about this process was somewhat personal. My sister, Thao Tran, an Orange County native, got me curious about the process. Her sister-in-law was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, where her marrow no longer produces effective red and white blood cells.

As a result, she and her husband, Hiep Nguyen, have been traveling across the country holding bone marrow drives in Vietnamese communities and conventions. They have also created Project Swab, a community which connects Vietnamese blood cancer patients to resources that can help them increase their chances of finding a bone marrow donor.

Most of the time, it is that personal connection which compels people to get involved in these kinds of issues. The situation becomes more real, more dire, when you personally know people who are sick, going through chemotherapy and facing those donor issues.

Yet it is not just the Asian-American community that is inflicted with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. These diseases do not discriminate between races. For example, the number of African American and Hispanic patients who are afflicted with blood cancer--such as leukemia and lymphoma--is 1,300 per year per each group, according to the NMDP.

As of 2008, there are more than 7 million donors in the NMDP. Minority donors break down as follows:

  • 83,739  American Indian/Alaska Native
  • 532,006 Asian American
  • 559,972 Black or African American
  • 386,549 Hispanic
  • 249,439 Mixed Races

Source: National Marrow Donor Program

More people need transplants than those who receive them. Out of 10,000 who sought transplants in 2008, only 4,300 received them. This low numbers is due to disparities in access to health care, lack of referrals for such treatment options and the inability to find matching donors.

If you are a member of a minority race and ever in need of a bone marrow transplant, you have less than a 30 percent chance of finding a matching donor because tissue types are the most similar between people of matching ethnicity.

Courtesy of

If you read this far, then I'm assuming you are still interested in becoming a marrow donor. To sign up, it only takes a cheek swab. Click on the link to register online: Free Home Kit 

Or, if you are going to be out and about during the weekend, you can sign up at the following upcoming bone marrow drives. Who knows, you might be able to save someone's life someday.

Upcoming drives in Orange County and Los Angeles


  • 7 a.m.-1 p.m.          
  • Church Dr., 407 S. Chicago, Los Angeles 90033


  • 9 a.m.-4 p.m.          
  • Blood and Marrow Drive Day1, 4650 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90027


  • 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Blood and Marrow Drive Day2, 4650 Sunst Blvd., Los Angeles, 90027


  • 10 a.m.-4 p.m.        
  • Lien Hoa Temple, 9561 Bixby Ave., Garden Grove, 92841


  • 10 a.m.-4 p.m.        
  • Hue Quang Temple, 4918 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana 92703


  • 10 a.m.-2 p.m.        
  • Health and Safety Fair, 12322 Washington Blvd., Whittier, 90606


  • 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Lennox Health Fair, 4125 W. 105th St., Lennox, 90304  
More information:
National Marrow Donor Program
Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (serves the Southern California community)

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