Frequently Asked Questions & Answers
The HLA Registry
Marrow Donors Needed
Become a Donor
HLA Drives
Matching a Patient
Marrow Donor Questions and Answers
Marrow Donor Stories

1) What exactly is a bone marrow transplant?
Simply, it is the replacement of diseased bone marrow cells with cells from a healthy donor that are transfused into a patient's veins through an IV, just like a blood transfusion.  Within two to three weeks, the transplanted bone marrow begins to produce normal blood cells in the patient.

2) Is bone marrow transplantation a new technique?
Not really. Ten years ago, they were done only as a terminal blood cancer patient's last hope.  Today, thousands are performed every year at specially-approved medical centers all over the world.

3) Which diseases can be treated?
A long list-acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), lymphoma, aplastic anemia, severe combined immune deficiency syndrome, sickle cell anemia and radiation poisoning are only a few of these blood diseases killing thousands of children and adults every year.


4) What are the actual chances of finding a donor?
A family member with matching bone marrow is best, of course, but that's possible only 30% of the time. Unrelated donors are now being called upon when their tissue type, their human leukocyte antigens (HLA), matches the patient's.  The chance that a patient will find a compatible, unrelated donor varies widely, depending on the patient's tissue type.  Because tissue types are inherited, and some tissue types are unique to certain ethnic groups, a patient's best chance of finding a match is within his or her own ethnic group.

5) And that's why you need to find many donors?
In a word, YES! Which is why we desperately need the help of caring people like yourself.


6) Who can become a donor?
You must be between 18 to 60 years old; have no history of hepatitis, heart disease, cancer or AIDS; possess a positive attitude and pride in wanting to become a donor; and sign a standard consent form allowing The Registry to include your HLA tissue type, discreetly maintained at all times, in out confidential, computerized files for future matching.


7) It takes only a simple blood test to start?
Once the consent form is signed, YES. It's that simple.


8) Can I be a donor for a specific patient only?
No. Not through the Registry.  You will have to go to your own physician and have your HLA A & B done by an outside lab.


9) Can civic and religious groups sponsor a drive?
You bet! Many already have.  We shall be happy to provide information and discuss the details.


10) What about the firm where I work?
We're always looking for corporations to sponsor their caring employees, people eager to help others in need, fighting a deadly disease.


11) What do I do first to become a donor?
You've already taken the first step by learning about bone marrow transplant. Now, simply fill out the printable forms and mail back to us or call us at 1-800-336-3363.
It's that easy!


12) What happens if I am a match?
If you are found to be a possible match with a patient needing a transplant, we will contact you immediately, inform you of the possible match and give you the option of proceeding to a second blood test to ensure final HLA compatibility with the patient. (This test authorized only by the patient's physician, is paid for by the patient or his medical insurance plan.)  Then, if there is a confirmed match, the transplant can be scheduled, but only with your legal consent, given after in depth counseling and explanation.  And then we cry real tears of joy!


13) Now tell me how my bone marrow is extracted?
Actually, the proper term is 'harvested'.  First, you are given a general or spinal anesthesia.  Second, only 2% to 3% of your marrow is harvested from your hip area through specially-designed, sterile needles. (In case you didn't know, bone marrow looks like healthy blood, a fluid, nothing bony or solid.)  And third, you are usually released from the hospital after a day of tender loving care.


14) Does it hurt?
We would be lying if we said 'No.'  In truth, it's more like a 'poke in the hip,' and other than some residual soreness that can last for a few days, it's nothing compared to what the patient's options would be without the transplant.


15) Are there any risks?
Other than the remote chance of a reaction to anesthesia, or an infection, the risks are minimal.  This will be explained to you in detail.  On the other hand, patients are at great risk.  Before receiving your marrow, they receive massive doses of radiation to totally destroy their diseased marrow, leaving them open to deadly infection.


16) What happens to the patient?
If the transplant is successful, the new marrow begins to produce normal, healthy blood cells within two to three weeks.  After the hospital stay, the patient is treated as an out-patient for several weeks and then returns home.  The patient has received the chance--of a lifetime.


17) Who pays the total cost to donate my marrow?
Not you--the patient or his medical insurance does.  The marrow is usually harvested at a collection center convenient to you and hand-carried by a courier to the patient's transplant center.


18) Can I withdraw as a donor at any time?
Up until the time you provide us with your final, legal consent to proceed with the
transplant--YES!  But we hope that you wouldn't want to change your mind, as too
much is at stake for the patient needing your help.


19) Can I contract AIDS by being a donor?
You can not contract the AIDS virus by becoming a bone marrow donor.

For your information, please read the following facts about the AIDS virus.

If you are in one or more of the risk groups for the AIDS virus (listed below) or have had sex with someone who is, YOU MAY NOT BE A BONE MARROW DONOR, for it becomes a risk to the patient.

  • Men and women who are now or have been prostitutes at any time since 1977 and persons who have been with their sexual partners in the past twelve months.
  • Any man who has had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977.
  • Persons with hemophilia who have received clotting concentrates.
  • Anyone with a positive HIV test or any symptoms of AIDS such as unexplained and persistent: fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss or diarrhea; swollen lymph glands, white patches in mouth, persistent dry cough unrelated to smoking, severe tiredness or shortness of breath, any unusual skin rash, bruise, bump, swelling or skin discoloration.


  • The AIDS virus can be transmitted through blood.
  • Before donating marrow (on the third blood test), the blood is tested for the HIV (AIDS) antibodies.  Any blood testing positive is destroyed.
  • If HIV (AIDS) antibodies are found in your blood you will be notified after the test is confirmed.  YOU WILL NOT BE A BONE MARROW DONOR.
  • Any person who is one or more of the risk groups listed must not sign up as a voluntary bone marrow donor.
  • It can take up to twelve weeks or longer after AIDS infection before antibodies can be detected by a test.  If there is any chance you have been exposed to the virus, DO NOT SIGN UP, IT COULD HARM THE PATIENT.