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March 03, 2011
I don’t normally blog about my personal life for the simple reason that my personal life is really rather dull. But at the moment it isn’t. It’s not extraordinary, but it’s not dull, and I think it needs to be told because what I’m currently doing could and should be done by others. Maybe even you.
This is the (sort of) diary of a (potential) bone marrow donor.
These are the people you need: http://www.anthonynolan.org/
2006, one afternoon
Campus universities are a great source of bodily fluids it would seem. No, get your mind out of the gutter; I am referring to substances like blood and marrow. At one stage during my time at the University of Warwick it was a weekly occurrence to see the blood donation lorry parked in the grounds waiting for passing students to drop in. A worthy cause, it almost seemed a shame that they would come on Tuesdays as many of the sports teams played on Wednesdays and I knew of more than one sporty student who wanted to donate but didn’t want to do so on a Tuesday – “I can’t be weak for the match!”. You would sometimes also see members of Warwick Pride protesting at the ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with men, often accompanied by a groups of lesbians who would go and give their blood, whilst commenting loudly that their male friends couldn’t. It was a good way to protest.
It wasn’t just the blood people who came to visit. Anthony Nolan would come too.
Anthony Nolan is a charity that supports research into leukaemia, and which runs a register for bone marrow donors. As with all such charities it relies on volunteers to join its register and be matched up with sufferers of leukaemia and other blood disease who are in need of a transplant. Interestingly, in light of what I observed about the blood donation truck at Warwick, Anthony Nolan allow gay men to join the register and donate with the same restrictions as heterosexuals. As one Anthony Nolan representative said “If they are practising safe sex with a trusted partner then we are more than happy to accept them.”
And so it was one afternoon that Anthony Nolan nurses took over a couple of rooms in the students’ union at Warwick.
Students make a great target market for such drives. One could flatter the altruistic nature of students by saying their increased social awareness and tendency towards idealism makes it likely that they’d sign up for this sort of thing, to positively intervene in the lives of others. One could also point out that they have a lot of free time and a tendency to be distracted by anything which looks vaguely interesting and unusual, like a queue with some nurses at the end of it. For me, it was a combination of the two.
There was a queue of people in the students’ union building. I was on a free afternoon (in the sense that I probably should have been in the library somewhere, reading something important and relevant and historical) and with mates. A queue leading to a room which wasn’t usually occupied was an invitation to go and join it. Is there any act more British than joining a queue just because it’s there? Who knows, I’m only half British so maybe I should have only half joined it.
It turned out to be a queue to sign up for the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register. At this point we could have wandered off again, in search of queues with less bloodletting at the end of them. But we didn’t. Call it that student conscience or whatever, but we decided a bit of queuing, form filling and blood sample giving was a good use of our time.
By this stage it was late in the afternoon, and the nurses were anxious that they would have to leave soon. One stuck her head out of the door to the room and announced to the queue that they were finishing soon, and that they would be prioritising certain groups of people.
Men and ethnic minorities.
She explained briefly that there weren’t enough of either on the register, and that they were wanted for this reason. From their website I later discovered the following:
It is a priority for us to recruit more male donors because men can generally provide greater volumes of blood stem cells than female donors. This helps faster engraftment and the reconstitution of the immune system post-transplant. If there is a choice of donor for a patient in most cases a male donor will be preferred.
Ethnic origin is important when matching donors and patients. The ‘markers’ that are tested when searching for a suitable stem cell donor are genetically inherited and often unique to a particular race. A patient in need of a transplant is more likely to discover a suitable donor amongst groups of people who share a similar genetic history to them. In practice this means that an African-Caribbean patient, for example, has the greatest opportunity of finding a donor within his or her own ethnic community. There are still too many patients in the UK from black and ethnic minority communities for whom we are unable to find a compatible donor.
The nurse looked up and down the queue. A queue made up entirely of white females. Resigned to the fact she couldn’t get any more of the rarer groups that day she indicated for the next girl to come into the room. Jokingly I turned to my mate and wondered if being Celtic (as in I have three Irish grandparents, not that I am a football team) was enough of an ethnic minority to make a difference. Probably not we concluded. There’s so many British people with an Irish grandparent that it must be pretty common. How else do you explain the 1994 Irish World Cup squad?
Ray Houghton scores for Ireland against Italy at 1994 World Cup. He was born in Scotland. Watch the glorious video here.
The rest of the process was speedy. In we trooped, one by one, to give a small sample of blood and fill in some forms to say we weren’t injecting heroin into our eyes and having unsafe sex with as many hookers as we could (even though the University of Warwick is located in Coventry, it’s hardly close to any particularly mean streets). And we left. It didn’t feel particularly significant. The whisperings about how they get marrow (“a HUGE needle”) didn’t really seem that pressing. The lady had said they weren’t really looking for white females and we were all white females. They wouldn’t need us, surely?