Thank you for donating stem cells to a transplant patient in need. Whether you’re donating for a relative or someone you’ve never met before, your gift will offer the possibility of health and life. The Blood and Marrow Transplant team at Siteman Cancer Center will walk you through every step of the donation process.
The donor experience
As a donor, your experience will vary according to the location the stem cells are collected from. At Siteman, most of our donors have stem cells taken from their blood in a process called pheresis, but some donors have stem cells removed from their bone marrow.
Bone marrow harvest
If the stem cells are being collected from your bone marrow, you will undergo a short procedure under anesthesia in an operating room. While you are asleep, doctors will extract liquid bone marrow from your pelvic bone using needles. Your body will quickly produce more bone marrow to replace the amount that it has lost.
Most donors undergo bone marrow harvest on an outpatient basis, but they may sometimes be asked to stay overnight for monitoring.
If the stem cells are being taken from your bloodstream, you will first receive injections of a drug to encourage your body to release the stem cells from your bone marrow into your blood. Most donors tolerate the injections well, but you may notice:
- Pain in the bones
- Flu-like symptoms
- Pain at the site of the injection
- Low-grade fever
After a few days of injections, you’ll be ready for pheresis. You’ll be connected to a special machine through an IV placed in each arm. The machine will separate the stem cells from your blood and return the rest of the blood to you.
Pheresis is not painful, and you are free to sleep, read, watch TV, work, or listen to music. You may notice a few side effects during the process, which may be caused by a decreased amount of calcium in the blood. Low calcium can result from the anticoagulant medication given as part of the process. These side effects include:
- Numbness, especially around the lips
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Feeling nauseous
Donors are encouraged to eat or drink extra calcium before and after pheresis to prevent or treat these effects. You can even take antacid to increase your calcium levels.
You should expect the process to take one day, perhaps more. You may have to return for additional sessions, but most of our donors complete the process in a single four-hour session.
Are there any risks to the donor?
Donating stem cells is usually a low-risk process. It doesn’t cause any real threats to your health. Still, you may experience some discomfort following the donation procedure. You should expect that it will take between one to seven days for you to return to your ordinary routines.
If the cells were harvested from your bone marrow, you may notice:
- Pain in the back or hips
- Pain in the throat, due to anesthesia
- Muscle pain
Even if you can return to your daily life within a week, it will probably take about 20 days following the bone marrow harvest for you to feel completely back to normal.
If you underwent pheresis and had stem cells removed from your blood stream, you may experience pain in your bones or muscles, or headaches. This is caused by the injections you received to mobilize the stem cells. You will feel back to normal in about a week.
Are there any costs associated with donating stem cells?
No, you will not be charged for your donation of stem cells.