HomeNewsArticle Display

Get 'swabbed,' save lives: Bone marrow drive needs support

Swab kits are used to collect DNA samples from inside the mouth from volunteers wishing to be on the bone marrow donor register Jan. 13, 2015, on RAF Mildenhall, England. A bone marrow drive is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, and representatives will be available at each base Feb. 23 to 27 to collect cheek swabs for anyone wishing to participate in the drive. Samples will also be collected Feb. 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at both base exchanges for anyone else fitting the criteria and wishing to be on the registry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Abeyasekere/Released)

Swab kits are used to collect DNA samples from inside the mouth from volunteers wishing to be on the bone marrow donor register Jan. 13, 2015, on RAF Mildenhall, England. A bone marrow drive is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, and representatives will be available at each base Feb. 23 to 27 to collect cheek swabs for anyone wishing to participate in the drive. Samples will also be collected Feb. 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at both base exchanges for anyone else fitting the criteria and wishing to be on the registry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Abeyasekere/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kimberly Moore, 100th Air Refueling Wing NCO in charge of wing administration from Ipswich, Suffolk, has her cheek swabbed to provide a sample for the bone marrow donor registry Jan. 13, 2015, on RAF Mildenhall, England. A bone marrow drive is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Abeyasekere/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kimberly Moore, 100th Air Refueling Wing NCO in charge of wing administration from Ipswich, Suffolk, has her cheek swabbed to provide a sample for the bone marrow donor registry Jan. 13, 2015, on RAF Mildenhall, England. A bone marrow drive is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Abeyasekere/Released)

A U.S. Air Force Airman fills out his details as part of required paperwork to be added to the bone marrow donor registry Jan. 13, 2015, on RAF Mildenhall, England. Four swabs are taken from inside the cheeks and carefully packaged with relevant paperwork, before being sent to be tested by a laboratory, so potential donors’ names can be added to the registry. A bone marrow drive is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Abeyasekere/Released) (Photo altered for security purposes)

A U.S. Air Force Airman fills out his details as part of required paperwork to be added to the bone marrow donor registry Jan. 13, 2015, on RAF Mildenhall, England. Four swabs are taken from inside the cheeks and carefully packaged with relevant paperwork, before being sent to be tested by a laboratory, so potential donors’ names can be added to the registry. A bone marrow drive is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Abeyasekere/Released) (Photo altered for security purposes)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The tri-base bone marrow drive for RAF Mildenhall, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Feltwell is scheduled for Feb. 23 to 28 and unit representatives are scheduled to visit squadrons Feb. 23 to 27, collecting swab samples.

Trained personnel will also be at the base exchange on RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath Feb. 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to take DNA samples from any eligible individual else who wish to participate in the drive. RAF Feltwell members wishing to participate can visit either base exchange.

Donors must be aged between 18 and 60 and in good health, and can be active duty, dependents, Department of Defense civilians, National Guard, Reservists and coast guard. Additionally, there are less conditions disqualifying someone from donating bone marrow than there are donating blood. This means, for example, those with tattoos, who have been deployed to Africa, or have received immunizations such as anthrax, anti-malaria should be able to donate. No needles are used during this initial donation.

The testing procedure is simple, painless and quick, taking just a few minutes to complete necessary paperwork and provide a sample. Four swabs are taken from inside the cheeks, then packed carefully into an envelope, which is sealed with tape to avoid cross-contamination with anyone else's DNA.

"Just because you're doing a swab, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a match; but if you're a match - and the best match - they (the bone marrow donor center) will let you know and ask if you'd like to contribute," explained Master Sgt. Shanton Russell, 100th Air Refueling Wing bone marrow drive representative, and inspector general readiness superintendent.

"You're still under no obligation, so if you decide at any time that you don't want to donate, then you won't be contacted again," the Chicago native said. "But if you do decide to donate, you and the person of your choice get to fly permissive TDY to Washington, D.C. for the procedure."

Registration participants will be listed on the DoD and National Marrow Donor Program Registry, according to the C.W. Bill Young (DoD) Marrow Donor Program website.

Once each individual's tissue type is determined and entered into the registry, marrow transplant medical teams throughout the U.S. and worldwide can search the database to look for a prospective match. The website states that when a patient is given a diagnosis of leukemia, lymphoma, severe aplastic anemia or other blood-based disease, often the best or only treatment option available is a bone marrow transplant.

The first step is usually to look for a potential match within the patient's family, as they are more likely to have a similar HLA profile. However, only approximately 30 percent of patients find a match, so the remaining 70 percent have to look for an unrelated stem cell donor, which is where the NMDR is used.

If several individuals are found to match equally well, then more testing is required to find the best match, at which time a blood test is performed.

Russell explained many people may be hesitant to be on the bone marrow donor registry as they fear that the process of the physical donation, if found to be a match, will be painful. But it can be relatively painless, depending on which method is chosen.

"There are two processes to donate: the first method is having marrow extracted from your hip bone area, which is done using a general anesthetic," he said.

This procedure removes stem cells and is done using a needle and syringe. As there may be some discomfort, anyone donating this way would stay in the hospital for up to 48 hours, followed by a period of recovery at home.

"The second method is (peripheral blood) stem cell donation, where some blood is removed from a vein in one arm, passed through a machine which separates out the stem cells, then returned through the other arm," he added.

For five days before donation, the donor is given injections of a drug which makes the body release the marrow or stem cells from the bones into the blood. On the fifth day, these extra cells are gathered using a special blood filtering machine called an apheresis machine.

The procedure takes between four to six hours. Cells collected from donors are taken the same day to the recipient and infused within 24 hours. Recipients prepare for the transplant during the week prior by undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments to destroy the diseased marrow. The DoD Marrow Donor Program website explains that once the recipient has begun their preparation for transplant, it's critical that the healthy cells are infused on schedule, as the recipient will not survive without them.

"You donate no more than 5 percent of your marrow, and you and the recipient will be anonymous from each other for one year," said Russell. "Although there's less than a two percent chance you could be a match, it still means you could save someone's life."

After one year, if both parties mutually agree, then full disclosure is given so they can contact each other.

When completing the paperwork during the initial sample process, it's vital that a personal e-mail and up-to-date contact information is used. It could be years until someone is found to be a match, and by that time the donor could be out of military service altogether. As the registry can only contact potential donors with the contact information on file, it should therefore be up-to-date and personal, rather than government contact details.

Contact information for unit representatives at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath are listed below. For security reasons, names are not listed.

Overall campaign representatives:
· DSN 238-5209
· DSN 238-5041

Wing representatives:
100th Air Refueling Wing:
· DSN 238-6045

48th Fighter Wing:
· DSN 226-8442
· DSN 226-0415

100th ARW group representatives:
· 100th ARW: DSN 238-7025
· 100th Operations Group: DSN 238-6614 and DSN 238-5030
· 100th Mission Support Group: DSN 238-4091
· 100th Maintenance Group: DSN 238-6896

352nd Special Operations Group:
· DSN 238-4431
· DSN 238-3242

48th FW group representatives:
· 48th Medical Group: DSN 226-8465
· 48th Operations Group: DSN 226-0494 and DSN 226-4184

For more information, squadron members should contact their group representative at the number provided.