As I was sitting down to write my newest blog post, tons of Chanukah-related themes floated through my head. But the material side of me thought of presents, and about how we spend so much time and money thinking about the perfect gift for each of our loved ones. But why do we put so much energy into this? Yes, because we love them, but it’s not completely altruistic. We want the receivers of our gifts to think good of us. I find that the gift-giving ceremony has become verification that the giver is a worthy person in the receiver’s life.
But it’s not always that way–some gifts are unselfish. I am referring to giving the gift of life via organ or bone marrow donation. I have a soft spot for the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, a registry of hundreds of thousands of donor samples that are available to be matched should an individual with a blood disorder (such as leukemia or lymphoma) need a transplant. After attending their Partners for Life Gala dinner this past summer and witnessing 3 donor/recipient couples meeting for the first time since their successful transplants, the term gift of life has taken on a new meaning to me.
Matching is done through the histocompatibility antigen test, which looks for proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). HLAs are found on the surface of nearly every cell in the human body and are found in large amounts on the surface of white blood cells. They help the immune system tell the difference between body tissue and foreign substances. Each person has two sets of 3 small, relatively unique HLA proteins that they inherit from each of their parents. Siblings have a 1 in 4 (or 25%) chance of being a match, that is, of inheriting the same two sets of HLA proteins.
After HLA is determined, a crossmatch test is used to determine whether the recipient has antibodies against the donor’s HLA. If so, these antibodies could injure the donor’s cells, making the transplant a failure.
As you can see, finding a perfect match is not easy. If a family member is not a match, then the next most likely candidate is someone from the same ethic background. The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation is part of the National Marrow Donor Program, but has a niche in that it is dedicated to recruitment within the Jewish community. A Jewish individual seeking a match is more likely to find it within this smaller group of samples. This subset of samples also adds much needed ethnic diversity to the overall donor pool.
To become a potential donor, all you need to do is take a special Q-tip and swipe it in your mouth, either at home or at one of the many donor drives in your area. Gift of Life will call you if they believe you could be a match for an individual in need and will do more invasive follow-up studies.
So this Chanukah, think about giving the most selfless gift you can. What greater gift can one give to another than the gift of life?
For more information about Gift of Life or to get swabbed, visit their website at: www.giftoflife.org