Monday, November 19, 2007

The First Snow and I Become a Cord Blood Donor Reject

Today the first snow fell. It seems early to me for New Jersey. But it was so startlingly beautiful that it captured my attention and even led me outside to photograph it. When I looked outside my office window, I saw thick, fluffy white flakes drifting down in front of the brilliant red, orange and green leaf collage that composes my view. It didn’t stick to the ground but just fluttered through the sky – a magical white blanket – then disappeared. It now feels like winter.

Today I received the disappointing news that my application to donate our baby’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank was rejected. After doing quite a bit of research on the options – saving it in a private bank, donating it to a public bank, or throwing it out – Mark and I had decided to donate it. It was a decision I felt good about. It doesn’t hurt, it could help someone else, and if by chance no one else needed it, it might still be around if someone in our family developed a need.

I stopped donating blood after I was told by a blood collector I had the surface veins of a 90-year-old. So I was happy to have found something I could donate. I filled out the veritable mountain of paperwork required of donors and sent it back. Out of the many, many variables, the only question I marked a yes to was having spent time overseas. I have lived overseas for much of the past three years. But I didn’t expect that to be a problem. I’m in very good health, as the many boxes checked no indicated.

Guess I was wrong. They rejected me because I was in Bolivia and there is malaria in the Santa Cruz region. I told them I was in the city, not the rural areas and that I never heard of a malaria case among the people I came in contact with over five months. While I have taken anti-malarial medications in other countries due to the risk, in Bolivia it was so close to non-existent that I didn’t take anything, nor did the other foreigners I came into contact with. Even if, by chance, malaria came to the city, I was there during the winter, when mosquitoes just weren’t around. And if I had acquired malaria, wouldn’t I notice it by now?

Most importantly, malaria can be easily tested for. Why throw out a donation when they could just do a test and verify that I don’t have malaria. Last week, the medical director agreed with me. He said they would warn the doctor of a potential recipient of the risk and that doctor could order a malaria test. But apparently he consulted with his supervisors and they didn’t agree. Because today he called and said they couldn’t take the risk.

I wonder if it has to do with the recent case of the HIV-tainted organs donated by someone who acquired the disease shortly before dying. Similarly, they think I could have acquired malaria recently and not realize it yet. But in this sad, but single HIV case, the only one in more than a decade, everyone except the patients knew the donor was high-risk. The opportunity was there to order an HIV test before doing the transplants. It was just a failure of communication. It’s too bad that there is so little confidence in the communication structure of the donor system that it’s considered wiser to discard a potentially life-saving donation than to ensure that the appropriate information, documented in the reams of paperwork, is passed on to the people who need it.

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