What is actually leukemia?
Blood is made of 3 types of cells: white blood cells that fight the infection, red blood cells to carry oxygen, and platelets that help the blood to clot.
Every day, billions of new blood cells are made in the bone marrow – most of them red cells. But when you have leukemia, your body produces more white cells than it needs. And there are no “normal” white cells. They can’t fight infections properly. Because there are so many of them, there is no more space for red cells to supply oxygen, platelets, and “healthy” white cells to support the immune system. This affects as well the function of the body. That’s why leukemia is called blood cancer. No one knows what exactly causes leukemia; so, we don’t know how to prevent it.
Is there any way to fight leukemia?
Yes, there are. It might be radiation, chemotherapy, and some of the patients can be qualified to receive blood stem cells or bone marrow transplantation. And this is where the magic of medicine starts. As bone marrow of the diagnosed patient produces “broken” cells, it needs to be replaced. From where? From another, healthy person who is a genetically-matched. However, it’s very hard to find someone whose DNA matches enough to qualify for a transplant. That’s why there is an international registry for potential donors all over the world. The donor who qualifies might live very far away.
How does it work?
Let’s assume that you want to rescue someone’s life and register as a potential stem cell or bone marrow donor. All you need to do is to visit the registry, fill the quick form, and let the registry employee collect the swap sample for investigating your DNA profile. That’s it. After around 3 months, the result will be uploaded to the international stem cells registry. As I said, there is likely someone who will be fit to get your stem cells. Only around 30 % of patients can find their match. So if it happens, you will receive the call to carry out more detailed tests and check if both of you can make it safely.
So what happens if I meet the conditions and there is someone who matches my profile?
Congratulations, it looks like you will be able to do the most significant thing in your life and rescue another human being.
There are two types of transplants.
The first one is called stem cells apheresis, which means “to separate.” It’s a straightforward procedure that is similar to blood donation, with one difference. You will be connected to some kind of device which takes your blood, but at the same time filters your stem cells and puts it back. Ok, but what are the stem cells? Stem cells are not yet “specialized” cells. It means that they can become white, red cell, or platelet. They are produced in the bone marrow and released to the body in a bloodstream.
The second method might seem a bit scary but is quick and very safe. You will undergo a small procedure under anesthesia where a doctor takes a low dose of your femoral bone marrow by a needle. It takes around half an hour, and it’s completely risk-free. In only very few cases, the second procedure is recommended (for example, for kids). Still, you have to remember that you always have the right to choose the method. However, in my opinion, if I knew there is someone who is dying, I would not hesitate to save a life and go for the required procedure.
How can I register to be a stem cell donor in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia has its international registry located in King Abdullah International Medical Research Center in King Abdulaziz Medical City. You can find their numbers, as well as WhatsApp on their website: King Abdullah International Medical Research Center.
The appointment is not required, but I was advised to message them before I come. The team is fantastic, and they proudly registered already more than 70 000 donors. Of course, the registry is international, so if you do it in Saudi, you don’t have to register anywhere else.
If you don’t live in Riyadh, contact them, as they can arrange swap collection by the cooperating facility.
That’s it. Simple and easy! #join_and_save_a_life