Thursday, August 27, 2009


Today’s question is, “What the heck is apheresis?”

When we were first contacted by the National Marrow Donor Program they talked to us about donating bone marrow, a procedure I understood involved general anesthesia and a great big needle. I thought that meant they were interested in the stuff in the middle of the bone (with such a stellar explanation I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn I did not attend med school). What I didn’t understand was they wanted the cells from the marrow and a less invasive procedure to procure those cells is via peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. And that’s what Sean is doing.

The blood stem cells found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating, or peripheral, blood. Like bone marrow, these cells can be transplanted into patients with blood disorders such as acute leukemia, lymphoma and other blood disorders. To increase the production of the PBSCs the donors are injected with filgrastim, a drug that moves the cells from the marrow into the drug stream and the apheresis process collects the cells. (Sounds like I went to med school between the first and second paragraphs, doesn’t it? I just copied that from the marrow registry website...)

So the machine takes blood from Sean’s left arm, the PBSCs are removed by a cell separator then the plasma and red blood cells are returned to Sean via his right arm while the PBSCs are collected and sent to the recipient.

Voilà! That’s the process.

Sean’s been hooked up this morning for the past two hours and he’s doing okay. We thought the worst of the donation process was the shots; turns out the apheresis isn’t the breeze we thought it’d be. He was wiped out yesterday and I imagine he’ll feel the same today. The needle site in his left arm is bruised and sore. And today he’s having problems staying warm; thankfully a friend who did this before told him that could happen (thanks, Pat!). There’s a pretty nifty blanket-warming box right next to our station so I just keep covering him up. Would not mind having one of those at home!

We remain hopeful that Sean’s donation will prolong Zeke’s life (yes, I named our unnamed recipient). And I am in awe of all the people who endure this procedure; I’m especially amazed by the donors like Sean who do this for strangers.

We’ll be leaving the hospital this afternoon and will head home to celebrate Amy’s newly-debraced teeth. We’re picking up tons of gum for her; she was faithful to not chew a single piece in the two years she’s had her braces.

And I’m looking forward to talking about something other than injections and blood and apheresis procedures. Until we get the update on Zeke, of course.

Sean listening to Dallas Wind Symphony's Pomp and Pipes! on his iPod. And I'm listening to the apheresis machine go glug, glug, glug. (We could make a whole new song to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus: The blood in the 'chine goes round and round, round and round, round and round...)