April is National Donate Life Month!
The life-saving power of organ donation
Currently, 1,900 children under 18 years old are waiting for organ transplants. 25% of those children are under five years old. For kids with cancer, who are often put through incredibly grueling treatments, organ transplants can be necessary to save their lives. April is National Donate Life Month, which seeks to bring awareness about the life-saving power of organ donation.
Established by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003, National Donate Life Month seeks to get more people to sign up for life-saving donor registries. The last week of the month focuses specifically on the pediatric transplant waiting list. National Pediatric Transplant Week is April 24th-30th. During this week, Donate Life America encourages people to share candidates’ patient stories, honor donor families, and celebrate milestones recipients have reached thanks to organ donation.
Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplants
Most people have heard of cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Another essential part of the treatment plan might be stem cell and bone marrow transplants. Healthy stem cells from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood are introduced for this type of treatment to replace diseased or damaged cells. These healthy cells can either come from the patient (an autologous transplant) or a donor (an allogeneic transplant). The first people considered for donors are often family members. Still, if no family members are genetic matches, patients can try to find a match from the National Marrow Donor Program. Over 65% of the 18,000 people who hope to receive blood stem cell transplantation need to find donors outside of their families.
Leukemia is the #1 childhood cancer, and it is the one most likely to benefit from bone marrow or stem cell transplants (SCT). SCT is often used for high-risk children whose leukemia is likely to relapse after remission. This type of treatment results in remarkably fewer relapses.
Cancer treatment damages stem cells, which are vital for fighting infection. Before receiving a stem cell transplant, children with cancer are given an extra high dose of chemotherapy to destroy their damaged bone marrow. The process of getting replacement stem cells takes weeks, and during this time, the child is highly vulnerable to infection.
Nearly 60% of Americans waiting for an organ transplant belong to minority groups. While an organ can be transplanted to anyone, there is a greater chance of longer-term survival if the genetic background of the donor and recipient are closely matched. This makes it particularly important for people of every ethnic background to become donors.
Access to this successful form of treatment is essential, but it is only possible if people sign up to donate. Without a wide range of donors, patients are less likely to find matches, and the treatment cannot proceed.
Here are some additional important events during the National Donate Life Month:
Donate Life Living Donor Day – April 6th
On this day, we celebrate and thank living organ and tissue donors. Living donors are particularly important for children being treated for cancer because treatment can cause liver problems. Donors can donate part of their liver, and it will grow in the recipient’s body. Most children ages 1-5 are waiting for a liver, heart, or kidney transplant. Liver and kidney transplants can both be done from living donors.
National Donate Life Blue & Green Spirit Week April 16-22nd
During this week, Donate Life encourages a whole week of celebrating volunteers, doing crafts, thanking healthcare heroes and spreading hope.
National Donate Life Blue & Green Day – April 22nd
Spirit Week culminates with Blue & Green Day. On this day, you can wear green and blue to emphasize the importance of registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor.
Some events happen outside of April. Other National Observances to add to your calendar are National Minority Donor Awareness Month in August, National DMV Appreciation Month in September, and National Donor Sabbath in November.
Other Ways to Help
Please register as an organ donor! Visit DonateLife.net to register to become an organ, eye, and tissue donor. On bethematch.org, you can join the bone marrow registry or donate umbilical cord blood. Another easy way to become a donor is to register the next time you visit the DMV.
This month, consider how you can immediately and directly support families battling cancer. As I shared in this article, patients receiving stem cell transplants can be in the hospital for weeks. During this time, the family needs extra help to stay healthy themselves. Their priority shifts to their sick child, but that doesn’t mean other pressures or responsibilities disappear. Here to Serve is here to help. Consider donating to Here to Serve this month or check out our volunteer opportunities if you’re interested in donating your time and talent.
For more information:
HRSA Blood Stem Cell Registry: https://bloodstemcell.hrsa.gov/donor-information/donate-bone-marrow/joining-registry
Donate Life: https://www.donatelife.net/celebrations/
American Academy of Pediatrics: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/125/4/822/73165/Pediatric-Organ-Donation-and-Transplantation
By Kelly Markus
About the Author
Kelly Markus studied Film and Television and has spent time on sets in Los Angeles. Originally from the East Coast, she has moved back home. Since 2020, she has decided to refocus on writing. Having seen loved ones battle cancer, blogging for Here To Serve is close to her heart.
All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.