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Stem cell donation is start of Staursky’s overall plan

Published on Tuesday, February 12, 2019

By: Cynthia Wall

Donating stem cells is only part of Dorothea Staursky’s overall plan.

Soon after she arrived at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to start a hospital administration residency, Staursky joined the Be the Match Registry, a part of the National Marrow Donor Program, that pairs people willing to donate bone marrow or stem cells with those who need them.


Staursky registered at an annual drive held by the UMMC Associated Student Body, a drive that has delivered at least a half dozen donors with UMMC ties in the past five years.

Motivated by a social media post that described the quest of one patient with a unique ethnic background to find a donor, Staursky, who is half Greek with some eastern European Russian thrown in, knew she would fill a need in the registry.

Within a few months, she was told a young man needed her stem cells. She was a match. “It caught me by surprise but was very exciting,” she said.

Stem cell or bone marrow transplants can be life saving for many with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood disorders.

Soon she was working with the UMMC Bone Marrow Transplant team, who oversee transplants and operate a donation site. The process requires several shots leading up to the donation to increase stem cell production. The UMMC team arranged for her to receive the initial two shots on a visit to her parents, a visit scheduled before the donation call.

“I was expecting something horrible,” she said, but experienced only a little fatigue and an occasional headache and back ache.

The donation, which takes blood from one arm, removes peripheral blood stem cells, and replaces the blood in the other arm, was tedious but not painful, she said. Sitting still for about six hours gave her plenty of time to catch up on Hallmark movies. Shelby McNair, a nurse with the BMT team, made the process easier, explaining each step and answering her questions. “It was such an easy process,” she said.

“The patient is at the top of my thoughts and in my prayers,” she said. “How the shots make you feel or the process of donation is nothing compared to what he’s going through.”

For now, she knows little of the recipient other than his gender, age and the disease she’s hoping her stem cells help cure. Under BTM guidelines, if both agree, they can connect in a year.

The procedure is the same as that followed by many others who have donated.

Steps include:

  • Potential donors sign up. Be the Match collects swabs taken from the cheeks of possible donors, tissue types them and keeps those records on file. When doctors cannot find a local match for a patient, they call the registry to seek one.
  • Once the Registry has an initial match, they’ll ask the donor to undergo a physical exam and give more blood samples for more in-depth tissue typing.
  • If the match is confirmed, stem cell donors usually gets five shots, one a day, starting four days before their stem cells are harvested. Since most cells concentrate in the bone marrow, the shots help break up those cells and get them flowing into the blood stream.
  • On the fifth day, patients receive the final shot and donate stem cells through a process called apheresis. Most donors have blood withdrawn from one arm and returned in another. The entire process usually takes four to six hours.
  • The recipient’s physician will decide if they need stem cells or bone marrow. In a bone marrow donation the patient will have to undergo a procedure in which some marrow is removed from their hip. That requires a short hospital stay.
  • The stem cells or bone marrow are prepared for travel and taken by courier to the recipient’s hospital where they are infused. That could be anywhere in the world.
  • After a year, if the donor and recipient wish, they can make contact. Until then, all communication is handled through the registry.

Staursky’s quest now is to register others. Research shows that about 1 of 430 who register will donate. She wants to recruit 430 to register.

Britt Crewse, UMMC Health System chief operating officer, who works with administration residents, said he is impressed with her act. “It doesn’t surprise me she signed up as she is an employee who gives back to the community.”

“Getting 430 people to join the BTM registry is a noble goal. Joining the BTM registry is not difficult or time consuming and is something I look forward to doing myself,” he said.

“Signing up for the registry is giving back to the citizens of Mississippi. You never know when your bone marrow will match a patient in need and that patient might end up being a friend or colleague,” Crewse said.

Staursky encourages others to sign up, “It doesn’t take anything out of your life, your schedule and the impact you can have can save someone’s life.”

Join Be the Match Registry or learn more about it at bethematch.org

The National Marrow Donor Program maintains a database of potential donors and works with hospitals around the world to match patients with the appropriate donor. BTM seeks individuals 18-44 who are willing to provide a cheek swab and fill out a health questionnaire. Transplant success is higher with younger donors. Those older, 45-60, can still join and if part of a unique ethnic group, may be badly needed.