Church Patrons Donate Stem Cells to National Marrow Donor Program

Members of First Presbyterian Church, located in Durham, N.C. have recently offered their stem cells towards those in need of surgical donations.

The News and Observer reported last Sunday that 49 individuals arrived at the Church to offer their DNA samples. The DNA derived from participants will be entered into a national registry of bone marrow and stem cell donors.

The Rev. Joe Harvard of the Church felt that the donors are giving themselves for Christmas. "At Christmas, we ask the question, "What can I give for others?," he said when interviewed by The News and Observer. "Well, you can give of yourself."

Associate pastor Marilyn Hedgpeth is said to be the one who came up with the idea. It came to her after she witnessed firsthand how stem cells and bone marrow research offered aid to two Church members' family members.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, roughly half of the 10,000 people in need of a stem cell or bone marrow donation are unable to receive it. Statistically speaking, only 30 percent of those in need are able to find a match within their families. Minorities have a much harder time coming across these donations, though. This is due to the low number of minority donors, which lags far behind those of Caucasians donors.

Betsie Letterle, the regional recruiter for the donor program, handles the program's operations in the eastern half of North Carolina. She stated that she participates in at least a dozen donor drives each month, but she still comes across people who still don't know how easy it is to register as a donor.

Letterle spoke to The News and Observer about this issue. "They know about donating blood, but they don't find out about this until something happens to a loved one, like leukemia or sickle cell anemia," she said. "So we still have a ways to go to educate people."

Stem cells become harvested through a blood donation that involves an injection of a drug that increases blood-forming cells. After this, the bone marrow is harvested in a surgical procedure in which a doctor inserts needles into the pelvic bone to withdraw liquid marrow.

Stem cell donators are back to normal health within a few days. As for those who undertake the bone marrow procedure, their recover time is a week or longer.

The First Presbyterian Church made donations to another cause as well. Money was raised for the donor program and a separate table for people to sign up as organ donors was also present.

Several supporters and detractors still hotly debate the stem cell issue. For some, this recent act by the First Presbyterian Church is for a good cause. It is beneficial towards those currently suffering from debilitating illnesses.