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Be kind to the core and join marrow list

WHEN I joined the Be The Match bone marrow donor registry 20 years ago, I donated a few vials of blood for testing, then went home and sat by the phone for the call I just knew would come.

I imagined some researcher in a lab coat examining my sample under a microscope before shouting to his colleagues, “Eureka! This is it! The rare Redheaded Freckle-Faced Marrow of Lore!”

Then, when he’d regained his senses, he would call me and explain how special my bone marrow was and how it would save countless lives.

I think this fantasy ultimately included me winning an Emmy for playing myself in the made-for-TV movie about the event, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m still waiting for that phone call—I’m sure it’s just an oversight—but I remain a huge fan of the registry.

Last Saturday, I volunteered with some friends at a bone marrow donor registry drive in Stafford. We hoped to add 25 people to the registry, and by the end of the day, 40 had signed up, so we considered it a success.

Still, I was surprised by the number of passers-by who literally shrank from me when I asked them if they’d like to sign up.

Maybe they sensed the potency of my own marrow and were intimidated. I get that a lot.

But what I heard were some rather weak excuses. I held my tongue, which my friends will tell you is almost unheard-of, because I didn’t want to be forever known as The Over-Enthusiastic Volunteer Who Started a Fight at a Bone Marrow Donor Registry Drive.

To be clear, there are a number of legitimate medical reasons for not joining the marrow donor registry.

The ones I’m listing below—with the response I wanted to give but didn’t—are not them.

“No thanks. I’m good.” I’m sure you are—though the waistband-round-the-knees look you’re sporting indicates otherwise—but actually, this isn’t about you.

Think of it as an opportunity to be a super hero without need for

a cape and tights. Though, given your current state of dress, neither of those accessories would harm your fashion sense in any way.

“We’re not from around here.” No? How about Earth? Are you from Earth?

The Be The Match registry is worldwide and includes 18.5 million willing donors, several of whom are “not from around here” either.

The advent of planes, trains and automobiles means if you’re lucky enough to be someone’s match, your ZIP code will not prevent you from saving their life.

Then again, should you trip over those pants on your way out the door, it could slow your journey.

“I don’t like needles.” Congratulations. That qualifies you for entry into a group I like to call The Everyone Club. Typically, our members also dislike flesh-eating bacteria, being mugged and any sudden drop in cabin pressure.

What I’m trying to say is that your condition is not unique. No one likes needles. They’re not inherently warm and fuzzy.

You know what is warm and fuzzy? Or at least fuzzy? A cotton swab.

Signing up for the bone marrow donor registry requires only that you swab the insides of your cheeks and hand over the tissue samples. The needles of 20 years ago are gone.

So unless you were attacked by a marauding band of Q–tips as a child and you still harbor an intense fear of cotton, you should be fine.

“I need all my bones.” I’m sure you do. But the only bone required for this effort is a little backbone—and you get to keep it.

If your tissue actually matches a patient in need, what you’d be donating is some liquid marrow from inside your pelvic bone, not actual bones.

So rest easy. No one’s looking to turn you into an invertebrate.

“No way! It’ll hurt!” You know what really hurts? Leukemia. And lymphoma. And sickle cell anemia.

It’s true that donors often feel some discomfort for a few days. But knowing they just helped save someone’s life is a pretty powerful anesthetic.

Not as powerful as the Redheaded Freckle-Faced Marrow of Lore, mind you, but still pretty special.


You can, simply by swabbing the insides of your cheeks and giving the tissue samples to the Be The Match registry. The organization will even send you a kit so you can do it at home.

On average, one in every 540 members of the U.S. registry will go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient in need. The bigger the pool of willing donors, the greater chance a patient has of finding a lifesaving match.

Patients are more likely to receive a match from someone of a similar racial or ethnic background, making it particularly important for minorities to join the registry.

For more information, visit or call 800/MARROW2 (800/627-7692).

Edie Gross: 540/374-5428