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June 2012

The List: Number 43 – Sign myself up to a Stem Cell Donation register.

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I’m Maori, and that means I’m very much part of that racial minority. Which is all well and good, most of the time. Most of the time I don’t even think about it. But sometimes, sometimes something twigs and it makes me wonder. Maori culture also happens to be, well, declining. There aren’t any ‘pureblood’ Maoris alive today. I don’t speak Maori, and culturally I live my life more along the pakeha lines than any other, as is the way I’ve been raised. It’s easier to live up that side of my life too, considering I’m over here in England. My Maori habits (specifically my everyday use of Maori language) are diminishing.

The other thing about being a minority is that finding a stem cell match is well, it’s not easy. So I signed up with Anthony Nolan to become a stem cell donor, in the hope that in case someone needs it, my minority cells will be able to help their minority cells.

Anthony Nolan is a UK based charity that has international reach. That international reach part was especially important for me, considering the minority I’d be helping is very probably back home in New Zealand. Anthony Nolan not only helps match donors to people in need, but also conducts research about stem cell matching and transplants to help improve the process. Nice, aye?

The process was pretty simple. I filled out the online form where they asked a few things to make sure I was all fit and healthy and suitable to register as a donor. They sent out a ‘spit kit’, where mostly the hardest thing to do was to make sure that I didn’t spit over the line (seriously). I put my spit in a tube (now with added purple) in an envelope and then in the post. They did some magic behind the scenes, sent me a card, and I’m in! Easy as!

What really surprised me though, is that when I told people they kind of wrinkled their nose, and asked if donation would hurt. Turns out, not really. They can take stem cell donation by blood now. Which is where you get a few injections to boost your stem cells in your blood stream, and then you give up some blood. They hook you up to a machine where your blood goes out one arm, into the machine where they separate out the stem cells, and then your stem cell-less blood goes back into the other arm. And giving blood doesn’t hurt that much. I’ve done it before.

The other process is a bit more involved, and requires a hospital stay. You get a general anaesthetic (lovely lovely unconsciousness) and they take some bone marrow from your pelvis with a needle. Apparently there’s a little bruising, but nothing too bad. Definitely not as bad as say, having your wisdoms out. They say the after-effects are like you’ve played a hard game of football. Not as sore as the rumours, is it?

Once they’ve got your donation, it’s spirited away and off to someone who needs it. Often saving their life, apparently. There are many heart wrenching stories of success on the Anthony Nolan website, but I shan’t guilt you with them. There’s this whole spiel about potentially saving someones life, which I have to say, did make me feel a bit warm and fuzzy.

So yeah. Me + my stem cells are registered. Number 43 – Done!