BY KAYLA VAN EPS
“You have cancer.”
Three little words that, when put together, are life-altering once spoken in a doctor’s office.
While it wasn’t a phrase that Vinod Lall, professor in the School of Business, heard, a close friend of his did.
When Lall asked what he could do to help, his friend said, “Sign up for the bone marrow registry.” Lall didn’t think twice, and in 2000 he registered to be a donor on the bone marrow registry. At the time, the registry was run by the Red Cross.
The process for signing up sounds intimidating. Many people think that to be on the registry you have to give bone marrow first or have blood samples taken. That isn’t so, Lall said.
“The process is very streamline,” Lall said. “Basically, they take a (cheek) swab, and you have to fill out a form. That’s all you have to do. After that, if you are eligible to be on the registry, they contact you and confirm that you are on the registry.”
A few years later in 2004, when the thought of registering to be a bone marrow donor had been put out of his mind, Lall received a call from the Red Cross. He had been matched with a patient who needed a bone marrow transplant.
The patient was a 2-year-old boy with ALS.
Lall and his wife, Rita Lall, a psychologist at Hendrix Clinic, were very excited and surprised by the news.
“The idea that maybe a little bit of what we can do can extend somebody’s life or save a life, and just the fulfillment you get from that idea is pretty awesome,” Rita Lall said.
While the couple celebrated the opportunity, they were cautious and had a lot of questions about the process.
They received multiple phone calls from nurses and physicians at the Red Cross and also received an informational DVD and more reading materials in the mail.
A week before the transplant, Vinod and Rita Lall traveled to Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota Medical Center to have blood tests and a physical.
In Minnesota, bone marrow transplants are only performed at the University of Minnesota Medical Center or at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
The next week they went back for the bone marrow donation, which is a surgical procedure. Vinod was put under general anesthesia and the team of doctors drew bone marrow from his hip bone.
The Lalls returned home to Fargo, and Vinod was able to go back to his regular activities within a couple of days.
Vinod received another call in 2010 asking him to donate to a 62-year-old female. At this time the registry was run by Be The Match, which is a national bone marrow registry program.
This time he underwent a process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell donation, in which blood is taken and cycled through a machine that removes the stem cells from the blood and returns the remaining blood back into the body.
“That process is almost a whole day process,” Vinod Lall said. “It’s a slow process. After you are done, they want to make sure you are OK, so you have to stay (for a third) day.”
The PBSC donation is a more involved process. A person undergoing this type of donation has to have a series of five injections of a medication that increases the blood forming cells, called blood stem cells, over the five days before the procedure is performed.
Dr. Denise Snow, an oncologist at Sanford Health in Fargo, said that these stem cells that are being donated are “not the same stem cells that have caused a lot of conflict between religious organizations and scientists” in recent years. These stem cells are used to treat blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma and other blood disorders, such as aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow fails to create new blood cells.
Over 48,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with leukemia 2013, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Between 300 and 600 cases of aplastic anemia are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Snow spoke at the panel discussion “Bone Marrow Donation 101” last Thursday, along with Sandy Schob, the Activities Business Manager at the Office of Student Activities, Vinod Lall, Rita Lall and Rachel Smart, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant.
The panel was arranged in conjunction with Dragon Frost and Go Pink. A bone marrow registry was held each day last week and averaged about 10 people a day who registered through Be The Match. A final total of people who registered last week was not available at the time of publication.
Schob said the main goal with the registry is to educate people about what is involved with signing up for the bone marrow registry.
“Becoming a bone marrow registry member has nothing to do with getting stabbed with a needle or anything like that when you register. Its very simple,” Schob said, explaining that to be on the registry, all an individual has to do is fill out a form and do a cheek swab. “Hopefully at some point that registry will help someone else out who has blood cancer to be able to survive.”
Schob just finished chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia in October and is in partial remission. If her leukemia comes back, she said that another treatment option she has is a bone marrow transplant.
Vinod Lall was told that a donor can only donate twice, but says he hopes that isn’t true.
“I am still on the registry, and if they call me up, I will go without question,” he said. “It’s a good thing to do, and it doesn’t hurt too bad, and its for a great cause.”
Vinod Lall and Rita Lall both wish that they knew the outcomes for the patients Vinod donated to. Vinod initiated the process that the registry has in place to contact the bone marrow recipients, but said neither of the recipients responded.
“We really wanted to know what was happening on the other end,” Rita Lall said. “We really didn’t get that information, but we hope that it worked. You go through a barrage of emotions, you know, the excitement, the anxiety, the fear. It’s not something you do everyday.”
Still, Rita said she is “totally in favor of being a donor, and I am proud to be on the registry.”
For more information on bone marrow donation or to register to become a bone marrow donor, go to bethematch.org.