Policy to be bone marrow donor changes

Health officials looking for younger, healthier donors

Published  11:10 AM HST Feb 17, 2013
HONOLULU -

Bone Marrow transplants can be the cure for people with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.

But changes have taken effect in the world's largest listing of potential marrow donors.  And Hawaii residents can play a significant role in the new efforts.

A simple swab of your cheek and a signature of approval, and you're registered with the bone marrow registry.

Some 80,000 people in Hawaii have already signed up to be a possible donor.  And the registry is always looking for more.  It's just now, they're being more selective.
 
As of Oct. 1, the national Be the Match Registry has changed its policy to recruit only 18 to 44 year olds in good general health.
 
"It's because of the needs of the patients that they find the younger the donor, the healthier the marrow, the healthier the stem cells. That's better options for the patient and leads to more successful transplants," said Roy Yonashiro, Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry's recruitment specialist.
 
That's not to say if you're 45 you're out of the registry.
 
"You're in the registry until you're 60, but the chance of you being called is very slim," said Yonashiro. "So we're advising people who are not 18 to 44, but know someone of that age, please urge them to sign up.  Getting them to come down and register. They'll be in the registry longer and they might save someone's life in the future."
 
Yonashiro said while college is the best place to find the age group they're looking for, it's much more challenging.
 
"They've got a lot of things on their mind: graduation, future occupations," said Yonashiro.  "What we're trying to do is get into the colleges and get them to understand what we're trying to do. It's a commitment, but it's not a lifetime commitment."
 
Lisa Kehl knows the importance of her commitment.
 
"That's always the encouraging story, that by signing up maybe I'll be able to save somebody's life," said Kehl.
 
The registry is also in critical need of more Asian Pacific islanders.
 
"We have a lot of patients in Hawaii right now who are urgently trying to find a donor and because they're Hawaiian or part Hawaiian, they can't find a donor," said Yonashiro.
 
The good news: Kapiolani Medical Center is now doing bone marrow transplants after Hawaii Medical Center closed, allowing patients to stay home who need the life-saving help.

A state bill that allows bone marrow donors to take a leave of absence from work is making its way through the legislature this year.  It applies to private companies that employ 50 or more and the employee has worked more than a year and must be willing to use part of their vacation or sick time to offset the cost.  The law also applies to the other organ donation foundations in Hawaii.

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