What I didn’t know about bone marrow (almost everything)

I was hanging out in the soft play the other day while my four-year old played with his friends from nursery, and I got chatting to another mother. She’s lovely but I don’t know her very well, and her two boys — one who’s 6, the other who’s just turned 4 — are very sweet. They live just round the corner from us and I’ve had my eye on them for a little while as possible playdates where the kids wouldn’t have to cross a road (in fact, they could probably climb through the gardens in between the houses, not that I’d encourage trespass… Ahem).

What I hadn’t known before is that both her sons had bone marrow transplants when they were babies. What I also didn’t know is that it can be really difficult to find an appropriate donor, so there was only one matching donor in the whole of the UK for her older son.

I also didn’t know (yes, okay, I didn’t know anything) that transplants don’t necessarily last forever. Her six-year old is going to need another soon (he’s been ill again — he was in a wheelchair over the summer) and she’s terrified that they won’t be able to find that one donor again, the one who saved his life when he was a baby.

I’m a bit of a wuss about needles (also, spiders, craneflies, heights…) but donating bone marrow only happens when there’s a match (so you’re only asked if you’re needed) AND they take it like blood, not by extracting it straight from the bone (although that’s an option too).

One final thing that I didn’t know: in Scotland we have no facility for saving umbilical cords — all those free stem cells that could save people’s lives get thrown away. I’m happy we have a separate health system, but that seems really mad.

I don’t have any proper way to finish this post. I’m not going to say: go out and sign up for the bone marrow registry next time you give blood, because that’s up to you.

But I guess I properly appreciate that all my worries — about whether my husband will have a job next year, about my son still limping a bit on the leg-that-was-broken, about whether my kids watch too much TV, and of course how on earth I’m going to lose weight and still drink wine, are actually nothing very serious — they’re good worries to have over Christmas.

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