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How You Can Save A Life By Watching TV

A big push is about to be launched to get more of us to sign up to the Bone Marrow Donor registry -- and the good news is, it won't hurt.

“I was expecting a big needle in the spine to suck out the bone marrow," said Jack Jacobson, a 29-year-old medical student, who went on the registry eight years ago.

When he got the call in 2016, his DNA had been matched to someone he will never meet. He doesn’t know if he saved that life; privacy rules are tight.

Jack in hospital. Photo: supplied

But he said the procedure itself was a breeze.

“It’s no more painful than giving blood – which really is not that painful anyway," Jacobson said.

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Injections stimulate the donor’s bone marrow to produce stem cells. These flood into the blood stream, where they are easily harvested by doctors. The donor’s blood, stripped of those extra cells, is then pumped back in.

Medical experts are calling for more Aussies to join the bone marrow donor registry. Photo: Getty

It usually takes as long as a good binge of The Bachelor.  Jack used the time to read a book.

“It’s the difference between life and death,” said the head of the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, Lisa Smith.

“If you’re facing a stem cell transplant, this is your last hope.”

Pamela Bou Sejean knows all about it. At 24, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer striking the immune system.

Pamela in hospital, during her treatment. Photo: supplied

Doctors, at first, were reassuring. It usually responds well to treatment.

“It’s 'the easy cancer', the 'good cancer' they often call it,” she said.

But in her case, chemotherapy and radiation made little difference. A transplant of her own treated stem cells failed to stop the disease.

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“My next and final option was to have a donor stem cell transplant," Bou Sejean said.

Pamela in hospital, with her dog. Photo: supplied

None of her brothers were a match, but they launched a Facebook search for a donor which reached as far as the president of Lebanon.

Like 80 percent of Australians in her position,  she found her match overseas – in Germany. It not only saved her life, but transformed it.

“It’s huge. I am grateful for every new day," she said.

Bou Sejean was in recovery when she met the man she later married. Life is good.

“If you are considering being a donor, it is just such a powerful, beautiful thing that you can do for someone," she said.

"You are saving their life. It brings so much joy not just to the patient but it’s their whole world, their family, their friends, everyone around them.”

Pamela's search for a donor went far and wide, into media and across the world. Photo: supplied

Successful bone marrow transplants rely on a close genetic match between donor and recipient. Australia’s current donor list is shrinking, because more people are dropping off the list as they hit 60 than are being added to it.  Most on the list are women of Anglo-Celtic background.

“It’s time for guys to step up,” Smith said.

“We need 18-30s, especially men, from a range of different backgrounds and cultures.”

Diversity matters, because successful transplants require a close genetic match between donor and recipient.

Pamela today, healthier and happier. Photo: supplied

“A lot of us do have some kind of mixed heritage,” Pamela says. “We’ve got such a diverse mix of people who live here now and if you’re hearing of patients struggling to find their match it’s because they’ve got some sort of unique ethnic background that’s making it difficult.”

You can find more at the Strength To Give website.