Everyday Heroes

Who are everyday heroes?

Marrow donors are everyday heroes. They are people, just like you and me, who take pride in helping others. In Iowa, it’s not something we even think about, it’s just what we do.

By signing up to be on the marrow donor registry, you have the potential of helping not only your neighbors but families from around the world. 70% of the families who have a loved one in need of a marrow transplant to survive will learn that there is no tissue type matched donor in the family. Their only hope is that someone who shares their loved one’s tissue type has registered as a potential donor. You may be their hero. Get registered!

Get the Facts

Q: Why is there a need for people to join the Be The Match Registry?

A: Thousands of patients with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases depend on the Be The Match Registry® to find a match to save their life. Patients need donors who are a genetic match. Even with a registry of millions, many patients cannot find a match. Donors with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds are especially needed.

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Q: I'm already on the NMDP Registry. Do I need to join the Be The Match Registry, too?

A: Be The Match Registry is the new name for the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP) Registry. If you joined the NMDP Registry, either in person or online, you are a member of the Be The Match Registry and do not need to join again. The name has changed, but the goal is still the same. As a member of the Be The Match Registry, you could be the one to save a life.

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Q: What is a bone marrow transplant?

A: Bone marrow transplant is a life-saving treatment for people with leukemia, lymphoma and many other diseases. First, patients undergo chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Then a donor's healthy blood-forming cells are given directly into the patient's bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply.

For a patient's body to accept these healthy cells, the patient needs a donor who is a close match. Seventy percent of patients do not have a donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find an unrelated bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood.

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Q: How do I become a bone marrow donor?

A: The first step to become a bone marrow donor is to join the Be The Match Registry. Doctors around the world search our registry to find a match for their patients. If a doctor selects you as a match for a patient, you may be asked to donate bone marrow or cells from circulating blood (called PBSC donation). Patients need donors who meet health guidelines and are willing to donate to any patient in need. To learn how to join the Be The Match Registry, see Join the Registry.

There are two methods of donation: peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) and bone marrow. The patient's doctor chooses the donation method that is best for the patient.

PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure that takes place at a blood center or outpatient hospital unit. For 5 days leading up to donation, you will be given injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. Your blood is then removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through the other arm. Your blood-forming cells are back to their normal levels within 4 to 6 weeks.

Marrow donation is a surgical outpatient procedure that takes place at a hospital. You will receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the donation. Doctors use a needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone. The marrow replaces itself completely within 4 to 6 weeks.

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Q: Why is there sometimes a cost associated with joining the registry?

A: The total cost to add a new member to the Be The Match Registry is about $100. This includes the cost of the testing needed to match donors to searching patients and related costs.

Be The Match relies on financial contributions to help cover the costs of adding members to the registry. Others have contributed toward the costs for you to join today. However, there are not always enough funds to cover the numbers of donors needed, so sometimes new members are asked to pay some of the registration costs when they join.

Your contribution will make it possible for more people like you to join in the future. Every gift helps make life-saving transplants a reality for more patients.

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Q: How do I use the registration kit to collect a cheek cell sample?

A. When you join the registry, you will use our registration kit to give a swab of cheek cells. We will tissue type the sample you provide and use the results to match you to patients.

If you join in person at a donor registry drive, the Be The Match representatives can explain how to use the swab kit. If you join online, you will receive your kit in the mail. Instructions are included in your kit.

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Q: What is my commitment if I join?

A: When you join the Be The Match Registry, you make a commitment to:

  • Be listed on the registry until your 61st birthday, unless you ask to be removed
  • Consider donating to any searching patient who matches you
  • Keep us updated if your address changes, you have significant health changes or you change your mind about being a donor
  • Respond quickly if you are contacted as a potential match for a patient

You have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. Donating is always voluntary.

If you decide you do not want to donate, let us know right away. That way we can continue the search for another donor without dangerous delays for the patient.

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Q: Why does a person have to be 18 to join? Can't my parent sign the consent for me?

A: We require volunteer bone marrow donors to be between the ages of 18 and 60, which is standard medical practice. An individual must be 18 to donate because marrow donation is a surgical procedure and the person undergoing the procedure must legally be able to give informed consent. A guardian or parent cannot sign a release or give consent because unrelated marrow donation is a voluntary procedure and is not beneficial or life-saving to the donor.

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Q: If I'm over 60, why can't I join?

A: The age limit is not meant to discriminate. We must use chronological age to determine eligibility to protect the safety of the donor and provide the best possible treatment for the patient. With age comes a small increase in the risk of side effects from anesthesia.

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Q: If I join, how likely is it that I will donate to someone?

A: We cannot predict the likelihood because there is so much diversity in the population. Every person who joins the registry gives patients hope, and new patient searches begin every day. You may never be identified as a match for someone, or you might be one of a number of potential matches. But you may also be the only one on the registry who can save a particular patient's life.

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Q: Does race or ethnicity affect matching?

A: Racial and ethnic heritage are very important factors. Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Today, there simply aren't enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage. Adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match.

Members of these backgrounds are especially needed:

  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian, including South Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Multiple race

Note: Information about joining is also available in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

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Q: What is the donation process like?

A: Adult donors may be asked to donate in one of two ways:

  • Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is withdrawn from the back of the donor's pelvic bones using special, hollow needles. General or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure, so donors feel no needle injections and no pain during marrow donation. Most donors feel some pain in their lower back for a few days afterwards.
  • Peripheral blood cell (PBSC) donation involves removing a donor's blood through a sterile needle in one arm. The blood is passed through a machine that separates out the cells used in transplants. The remaining blood is returned through the other arm.
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Q: Can I get tested for a specific patient or family member?

A: When you join the Be The Match Registry, you make a commitment to consider donating to any searching patient who matches you. As a volunteer, you are never under any legal obligation to donate and your decision is always respected. However, because a late decision not to donate can be life-threatening to a patient, please think seriously about your commitment before deciding to join our registry.

You can request a copy of your own testing results after you join the Be The Match Registry. However, if you want to be tested only for a specific patient, you will need to have your testing done privately. You can contact the patient's transplant center or transplant doctor for more information.

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Q: I've already been tested for a family member. How can I add my results to the Be The Match Registry?

A: Get a copy of your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue typing lab report and contact us at 319-356-3337. You will need to fill out a health history form to verify you meet medical guidelines. You will also need to sign a consent form agreeing to be listed on the Be The Match Registry. Once you are listed on our registry, we will contact you if you are identified as a possible match for a patient.

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Q: I think I may have already joined. How can I verify that I am on the registry?

A: Be The Match Registry is the new name for the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Registry. Whether you joined the NMDP Registry or Be The Match Registry, online or in person, you are part of the same registry and do not need to join again. If you have previously given a blood sample or cheek cell sample to be tested for the registry, you do not need to join again. If you are unsure whether you joined, you can contact the Be The Match office at 1 (800) MARROW-2.

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Bone Marrow Donor Resources

Contact Us

University of Iowa Marrow Donor Program

UI Hospitals and Clinics

General Hospital C332 (Elevator BW)

200 Hawkins Drive

Iowa City, IA 52242

Phone: 319-356-3337

Fax: 319-353-6585


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