Bone marrow is responsible for the production of different types of blood cells in the human body. Owing to the presence of hematopoietic stem cells, healthy bone marrow can be transplanted into the bodies of patients with cancer or other infections.
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A bone marrow transplant is necessary when your bone marrow has been permanently damaged, destroyed or needs to be replaced to improve your health.
If you would like to become a donor, there are a few steps you will have to undergo.
There are 5 basic stages in a bone marrow transplant:
Stage 1 - Examinations and tests
You will undergo a battery of imaging and blood tests, a physical examination and a look at your medical history. This is done to determine your eligibility for the transplant.
Stage 2 - Harvesting the bone marrow
There are two ways to harvest bone marrow:
Autologous transplant: In this type of bone marrow transplant, your own stem cells will be collected and frozen to be given to your later. Allogeneic transplant: If you are undergoing an allogeneic transplant, only stem cells from from the blood or bone marrow of a healthy donor that matches your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) will be used. Another option is to use hematopoietic stem cells from a donated umbilical cord.
Stage 3 - Myeloablation
During this stage, you will be treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This done to destroy any disease carrying cells, make more room in your marrow for the new cells and/or suppress your immune system. The form of myeloablation will be decided by your doctor according to your unique medical case.
Stage 4 - Infusion
The infusion of the stem cells takes place a few days after your chemotherapy/radiotherapy sessions. You will receive the infusion through an IV, in the same way that blood is given.
Stage 5 - Recovery and Engrafting
The last stage is the recovery stage. During this time, you will stay in the hospital and wait for the new marrow to engraft. You will undergo regular blood tests, to keep track of your blood cell count. You will also receive antibiotics and other medications, to make sure you do not get any infections. It will take anywhere from 2-6 weeks for your blood count to return to normal.
Bone marrow transplants are a massive procedure, and take a toll on your physical as well as mental health. Regular blood tests, blood infusions, medications and checkups will be an integral part of your recovery, even at home. It is important to remember, that every body is different and takes its own time to recover. You will have side effects from the procedure or the medication, and in case these get too severe, please contact your doctor immediately. It may be a few months or upto a year for you to feel fully healthy. During this time, make sure to always have a close group of people around to support your recovery, and to follow all guidelines put forth by your transplant team.