Thursday, October 1, 2009

Apheresis 1

Yesterday my 17-year-old daughter Alexandra gave blood for the first time. I am so proud of her. She got in the car after school, had the bandage on her arm. Made no big deal out of it, just helping out, didn't faint or get nauseated (not nauseous....nauseous means something else), had a great first experience. Good girl. Never toots her own horn. Did I mention Alexandra is my daughter?

Her experience prompts me to comment on something I'm doing along the same lines that's way less common, but useful and interesting: I'm in the last stage of donating blood stem cells to someone who has non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

I don't personally know anyone who has done this (thousands have donated, it's common enough, and isn't heroic like donating a kidney) and don't know much about the how the whole process will turn out; I'm curious and apprehensive.

If you want to know more about non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, check online. For the donating part, this is a good article:

I'm going to blog over the next 5-6 days about the donation process. I figure, if like Alexandra the Daughter, this first experience is a good one, I'll be inclined to do it again; and maybe you, Dear Reader, will consider signing up to be a Potential Stem-Cell Donor as well.

I think it was in 2007 I was at the blood center, and was asked if I'd sign up to be a Potential Bone Marrow Donor. Yeah sure, why not...."potential," right? Nurse swabs my gums for DNA, no needles (always good), and hey, I'll never get called anyway! That's easy.

Then in 2008 I was a potential match. "Mr. Kollwitz, do you remember signing up in 2007?" Ummm, yeah....? "You may be a match for someone, still up to donating?" Ehhh....OK. (S***! What were the chances?!) "Thanks, can you drop by LabCorp for some bloodwork? We'll let you know in a month or so if you're a match." These people on the phone are so cheery! Needle fun!

Off to LabCorp to get stuck. I'm a fainter, but the nurses distracted me, "My sister's having a wedding in Charleston next month, there's a lot of family stuff going on down there I could do without....d'ya think it's ok if I don't go?" "Well, I know what you mean, my sister had to hire a cop to make sure our mom stayed away from her wedding.... I'd advise you to not go, say it's too far." "Yes, but....." "Uh-huh, then maybe..." All done! You can go!

A couple of weeks later: no match! Thank ya, Jesus!

Then a few months ago: new potential match! Back to LabCorp for a needle summit! "Hello,, somebody else this time..."

A week later: I'm a match! Yes but...what about "potential"?

Then I spend a day up in Winston-Salem in August (2.5 hour drive, not bad): paperwork, urine, more needles, physical, chest x-ray, chat with doctors: "Now if the bone pain gets too bad during the 5 days you're getting the Filgrastim injections, call this number and we'll get you some narcotics." What!? Narcotics!? "Relax, most donors don't need 'em; we just want you be comfortable." Oh, thanks...I guess.

The schedule calls for injections of this Filgrastim synthetic protein starting on October 1. Filgrastim stimulates bone marrow into producing loads of blood stem cells which are to be centrifuged out of the blood on October 5 (and the 6th if necessary), then delivered to the anonymous recipient (I don't want to know who or where). Sounds cool doesn't it? Oct 1-4 shots are local. Sunday evening Janet & I (yes, I have to bring someone) go to Winston-Salem, spend the night there, go to the hospital for the last shots Monday a.m., followed later that morning by about 4 hours of apheresis. Apheresis (ἀφαίρεσις) is Greek for 'many needles.' Just kidding, it means 'taking away' (more or less). That's the centrifuge business. See Wiki for apheresis: I'll be doing the Continuous Flow Centrifugation (CFC) version. I understand apheresis has pretty much replaced the old-fashioned routine of slurping a bunch of marrow out of a donor's hip.

So, today is October 1. FedEx delivered a box of chilled Filgrastim yesterday. Took the box today to the local Cancer Center. I got another round of blood tests, and two shots of Filgrastim in the arms... tiny needles, practically painless...great nurses, Carolyn and Christy. No bone ache or incapacitation. I feel a bit thickheaded, jetlaggy, but changed the oil in the car this afternoon with no problem.

That's it for today. I hope to post something each day, especially something during the apheresis Monday. The hospital's wireless, and Janet teaches Art History online, so we need the laptop to be with us regardless.