On March 18, Sii Poland organizes a nationwide Bone Marrow Donor Day for its employees. As part of the Sii Power Volunteers Program, the company established cooperation with the DKMS Foundation – Let’s Defeat Blood Cancers. Thanks to an information campaign to encourage employees and non-Sii people to become potential bone marrow donors, the company introduces the whole process of collecting genetic material and refutes the myths associated with it. Magdalena Furtak, Sales Operations Specialist, tells us why it is worth registering and how she saved the life of an 8-year-old Rachel.
How did it happen that you registered as a potential donor?
Magdalena Furtak, Sales Operations Specialist at Sii Gdańsk: Actually, I’ve never thought about registering in the DKMS database. My friend wanted to sign up very much, and all I had to do was accompany her. Registration took place in one of the shopping centers. At the last moment, I thought that maybe it was me who was supposed to be there and I also enrolled in the database of potential donors.
After what time did they call you from the DKMS Foundation and what did they say?
M.F: A month after registration, I received a phone call informing me that a compatible patient was found. They asked me again if I was willing to donate the bone marrow and informed me about the next steps. However, this does not always happen so quickly – sometimes a registered donor is called after a few years.
As you have already learned that you can become a donor, what emotions accompanied you?
M.F: I was very surprised but also very happy! I was also wondering who the recipient is, how is she doing health-wise and whether I can actually help.
What were the next steps in the procedure? What tests did you have to go through, did it involve a long stay in hospital? Does the process involve any expenses?
M.F: After receiving a call with information about finding a recipient, I was sent for blood tests, which assessed tissue compatibility between me and the patient. Basic blood tests to check up on my general health condition were also done. I carried out the tests in Gdańsk. After about a month, I was sent for further tests in Warsaw. I had to do abdominal ultrasound, X-ray, ECG and subsequent blood tests. We also agreed on the day of bone marrow sampling. The entire stay in Warsaw during the check-up period was financed by the DKMS Foundation, so I was not charged with any costs.
For five days before sampling the bone marrow, I took G-CSF agent to increase the number of stem cells in peripheral blood. It is a substance produced naturally in the human body, e.g. over the course of an infection. While taking the agent, there may be flu-like symptoms, but in my case there were no side effects. The growth agent was administered through injections that I made myself at home.
I went to Warsaw with my friend for the sampling procedure. We spent two days in Warsaw. Accomodation and train tickets expenses, both for me and my friend, were financed by the Foundation. Most importantly, my friend was allowed to be with me in the sampling room all the time. It was truly a great support.
As for the bone marrow sampling methods, there are two ways. The first is to take stem cells from peripheral blood. The method is used in 80% of cases. The second method is to collect the bone marrow from the hip bone plate. I had my bone marrow taken using the first method, i.e. from blood. Cells are collected using a method called apheresis. On the day of collection, the blood is sampled from one hand, then goes through a machine where stem cells are isolated and returns to the body through the other hand. It lasted about 5 hours. The collected bone marrow was sent on a plane to the hospital in Cape Town, where the girl was staying.
Eventually, I came back to the hotel and the next day I was on my way home. In the evening, the Foundation called me to let me know who the recipient was. At this stage, you can find out where the patient comes from and how old he/she is. It turned out that my genetic twin is Rachel, an 8-year-old girl from South Africa. When Rachel was 6 years old, she was diagnosed with a disease involving bone marrow dysfunction. This meant that her bone marrow stopped producing red blood cells. To keep her alive, blood transfusions were needed, at first every six, then every four, and finally every two weeks. At that time, doctors decided that a bone marrow transplant was needed.
Have you had the opportunity to meet Rachel?
M.F: According to the procedure in South Africa, one year after sampling, it is possible to contact the recipient via the Foundation; after 5 years it is possible to meet him/her in person. After a year, I received a beautiful letter from Rachel’s parents. A few days later, by accident, I found the same letter on Facebook – I know it sounds unbelievable! I left a heart emoji under the letter, and a few days later the girl’s parents wrote to me and we have been in constant touch since then. Literally jsut a while back I got the latest photos and information about her health. I think that we will meet in some time in South Africa or Poland
Has anything changed in your life after donating the bone marrow?
M.F: I try to persuade as many people as possible to join the database. First of all, make people aware that sampling doesn’t hurt and with little sacrifice you can save someone’s life! It’s hard to even describe in words what joy each message or photo I receive brings, and the awareness that Rachel is completely healthy now
Bone Marrow Donor Day will be celebrated in Sii Poland on March 18 in branches in Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, Wrocław, Lublin, Katowice, Poznań, Rzeszów and Bydgoszcz. As part of the cooperation, the company will make a donation to the DKMS Foundation, which will be used to register the genetic material of Sii employees. At the same time, volunteers remind all interested parties outside the company that you can also become a potential donor, and the details are available on the DKMS Foundation’s website: https://www.dkms.pl/pl/stost-diver.