A bone marrow harvest refers to the act of collecting healthy bone marrow from a donor to be used for a patient or to be stored for use when a match is found. The procedure is done by inserting a very large needle into the hip bone in order to collect the marrow. Bone marrow is soft and spongy in nature, and is found in the center of bones. Within the marrow, blood is produced and stem cells are formed to later mature into various bodily cells.
Donors may sign up for a bone marrow harvest for many reasons. One may be to save healthy bone marrow for themselves in case they get sick in the future. Others give bone marrow to help an ill relative, usually a brother or sister, or to donate to a bone marrow registry to be used by whoever happens to be a match. The procedure itself can be painful, although general anesthesia will be provided.
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Before a bone marrow harvest can be performed, multiple tests must be run to ensure that the donor is healthy enough to be given anesthesia. These can include a urinalysis, physical, electrocardiogram, and bloodwork. Once these things have checked out fine, the donor can be moved into an operating room to undergo the procedure.
When a bone marrow harvest is being done, the donor is placed on his or her stomach. The needle is injected into each side of the rear hip bone in three or four different locations to ensure that rich marrow is extracted. Puncture wounds will not be visible from the outside, although there may be mark on the bones if viewed with an X-ray. Roughly 5 grams of bone marrow is generally taken, or roughly 5 percent of total marrow.
Red blood cells are also taken during a bone marrow harvest to use in the donor’s IV as he or she is moved into recovery. Bandages are generally placed over the needle marks to protect them from infection, although infection is rare. The entire procedure generally takes about one hour, although the exact time may vary from patient to patient.
Once a bone marrow harvest is complete, the bone marrow is filtered and either frozen or given to the recipient the same day. Donors may feel tired and weak due to loss of red blood cells. These cells will be separated from the donated marrow and given back to the donor intravenously. Most donors do not have to stay in the hospital overnight.