In the give and take of life, Utahns are big givers.
And, they're willing to give the very stuff life is made of: bone marrow.Since the Mountain West's first bone marrow donor center opened in July at LDS Hospital, hundreds have had their marrow tested and typed.
The response for donors has been so positive that LDS Hospital is establishing a procurement center. There, marrow will be typed, obtained and shipped to transplant centers around the world - to people whose lives depend on finding a compatible donor.
"We are typing as many as 30 persons a week. It's about as many as the person who does the typing can handle," said Dr. Myron Laub, medical director of IHC Blood Services, which oversees the Intermountain Donor Registry.
"We've had a significant amount of interest, particularly among our blood donors who are anxious to help out someone else whenever they can. They are just nice people," he said.
Bone marrow transplants are done at several U.S. hospitals - including LDS and the University of Utah - for the treatment of potentially fatal blood and immune disorders. These include leukemia and severe aplastic anemia (caused by failure to produce stem cells, the earliest form of all blood cells, in the blood marrow.) Patients in many centers have family donors available. Other centers have autologous transplant programs, in which bone marrow is taken from the patient while his or her disease is in remission. If the disease recurs, the frozen, stored marrow is thawed and reinfused into the patient.
Because the need for donated bone marrow far exceeds the supply, a third method also has become widely acceptable. Centers nationally - including Utah's - are collecting marrow from people not related to recipients.
"Nationally, transplant centers have encouraged blood programs to establish bone marrow donor centers because only one in 20,000 or more donations given by non-family donors are compatible," Laub said. "This national pool has about 200,000 donors."
Utah is adding to that pool.
With a grant from Intermountain Health Care, which owns LDS Hospital, the Intermountain Donor Registry last summer began the expensive and time-consuming process of typing marrow.
"IHC gave us a grant of $10,000 to help get it going because they thought it was such an important program," Laub said. "We have been spending their money just like crazy."
Laub feels confident the local registry will reach its goal of typing 800 persons by February; 1,800 by July.
Becoming a potential bone marrow donor is painless. It involves donating a blood sample. But the actual donation of bone marrow isn't as easy as donating blood.
Laub said the procedure, in fact, requires that the donor be placed under general anesthesia or undergo a spinal block that numbs the lower extremities. During the hour-long procedure, the specialist inserts a needle into the center of hip bones and aspirates the marrow particles. At least a pint of marrow is withdrawn.
Once the marrow is aspirated, it undergoes a filtration process. Within hours it is transplanted into a compatible recipient - identified through the National Marrow Donor Program's computer network that links centers and matches donors around the world with needy patients.
For the first time since the local registry opened, LDS Hospital may soon be involved in bringing together a compatible donor and recipient.
Laub said a New York blood center recently identified a potential donor now living in Nevada. At LDS Hospital the man was retyped and cross-matched "to see if he was an eligible donor for the transplant."
But only time - and more retyping - will tell.
"Our donors - not their names, but marrow types - will always be listed with the national registry," Laub said. "Whenever anyone from anywhere in the country or world needs a transplant, we could be contacted."
Laub said people are eligible to donate bone marrow every six months to a year, but more likely it would be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. A week before the donation, they are asked to give a pint of their own blood to replace the volume taken during the marrow procedure.