The typical time commitment for the donation process is 20-30 hours of your time spread out over a four-to-six-week period. PBSC donors receive daily injections of a drug called filgrastim for five days to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. Then, through a process called apheresis, a donor’s blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.
Read what donating PBSC was like for Mandi, in her own words.
I went in today for my first Neupogen® injection (Note: Neupogen is a brand of filgrastim). They drew some blood today and did another pregnancy test. Took my vitals and the nurse went over what to expect. I got my injections in the arms, nothing more than a little shot. I get allergy injections in my arms every 4 weeks, so this was nothing new to me. This stung just a tinge more than an allergy shot, but no big deal.
I laid low most of the day catching up on some DVR. I did notice that my stomach was a little off. I wouldn’t say nauseous, but I had no appetite. That being said, I went out to eat with an old friend and managed to eat half of my piri piri chicken dinner and a nice burrata cheese, tomato and petite basil appetizer. I can always make some room for dinner at my favorite bistro.
Sitting at the bar was uncomfortable though. My lower back is definitely sore, enough that you’re fully aware the pain is there, but not enough to stop me from going out to eat. I’m hoping that Tylenol does the trick.
This evening brings me to a different kind of pain. Rather than just an achy back and hips, the place that is most affected for me is my ribcage and sternum as well as my skull. I say skull because it’s not a typical headache, it feels like my skull hurts. When I cough or sneeze (I have bad seasonal allergies, has nothing to do with the injections) my skull hurts. But it is not persistent like a headache.
The ribcage pain as well seems to only be when I exert myself, or when I stand up from a resting position, my ribs throb a little bit until I get used to being upright. So, the pains are not a constant, and if I relax and stay on the couch with my movies, I’m okay. I also took the prescription pain meds they gave me, which helped considerably more than the Tylenol, especially on my achy back and hips.
So for day two, I experienced different pain. This is the bone pain they asked me if I had experienced. It’s not like anything else I have gone through in the past. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say overall around a 5 or 6, with the medication closer to a 4. I don’t want to discourage anyone from this, because it is a small price to pay and will only last a few more days. From what I’ve read, on the 5th injection day when they start to collect the cells from your blood, you leave that day feeling much better. So, until then, I will relax on the couch with my movies and kitty cats.
Today was a very good day, mild pain at times, but that was it. Primarily felt a throbbing bone pain in my rib cage whenever I went from a seated position to an upright position. Again, achy lower back and hips, but those would only be a 1 or 2 on the scale and Tylenol took care of those. I even managed to go to a BBQ and play in a cornhole tournament.
PS. Interesting factoid I learned yesterday … the recipient of my PBSC will have my blood for the rest of her life. Her blood type will become mine if it’s not already, and my DNA will be a part of her. How cool is that?
Much like yesterday, the pain is very minor. Little bit of an achy back and hips, a 2 or 3 on the scale, so I just took a few Tylenol. My ribcage doesn’t hurt like it did the last few days. The only new thing is that my hands feel a little tight.
I am looking forward to tomorrow and for the collection to begin, because that means the recipient is one step closer to her transplant.
Day 5 (Collection Day 1)
This morning I got my last Neupogen® injection and then headed to the Donor Center for the apheresis procedure.
It was very interesting. The machine was prepped and ready with saline solution in the lines. Since one line draws blood from my arm and one returns it to my body in the other arm, in order to start the circulation it had to be filled with saline. I have small veins, so one of the phlebotomists came in to hook me up which took about 10 minutes.
The machine started up and the nurse explained to me what it did. My blood came out and into a centrifuge where it separated into parts, plasma, white blood cells and stem cells. The plasma and the white/stem cells are collected in separate bags; the remainder of your blood is mixed back together and returned to your body. Also, a blood thinner is added to the blood to prevent clotting. That actually binds with calcium in your blood and the calcium depletion can cause side effects for some.
First thing I noticed was that I was cold. Your blood is running through this machine which is not heated and returned to your body, so most people get cold during the process. I had a few blankets on to help with that. Also, my lips and tip of my nose were tingly, which was from the calcium, so they put me on a calcium drip as well to help with that. Another weird feeling I got from the calcium was a vibrating sensation in my chest. It felt like my heart was vibrating along with the machine, it was very weird. I also got light-headed. The whole process took just over 4 hours.
Mom was there. She was lucky enough to have the task of itching my nose with a towel because we all know as soon as you can’t use your arms you get that itch on your face. I did feel a little bit of lower back pain and tiny bit of nausea, but that was from the last injection and the fact that I had only eaten half a bagel probably didn’t help that. I avoided any liquids this morning to try to not have to go to the bathroom during that time period. I was not successful in my quest. They went through two bags of the blood thinners which are fluids. You’re not allowed to move your arms or get out of the bed, so I’ll let you use your imagination there. Nurse assistance was needed. I’d say that was the most traumatic thing of my morning. HA!
Afterward, I felt weak and exhausted, couldn’t quite get my legs back under me fully and felt wobbly for about an hour and a half. Went straight home after and laid down. Now this evening, the shots’ side effects feel like they’re close to gone. Aside from the fatigue I may feel tomorrow afternoon, the achiness and nausea should subside from the shots.
Day 6 – Final Collection Day
Today was the last day of my donation process. No injections today, just straight to the Donor Center for my second apheresis.
Today’s procedure was much better than yesterday’s. Very little tingling, only a brief fluttering in my chest. The nausea went away and I was pretty comfortable. It seemed to go faster, only about 3 hours total, maybe a few minutes more. I was actually able to make it through today without having to go to the bathroom, but it was a race as soon as I was unhooked.
The first collection day seemed a bit scary to me and actually had me dreading going back today, but in retrospect I think it was a combination of the last shot hitting me along with the apheresis happening all at once.
Today was an easy day. I felt better right afterward, no light-headedness or wobbly legs today. My mom and I went out for breakfast after, and I’m home and feeling like my good old self. No more bone aches or headaches.
I’m a bit of a complainer (my family & friends may laugh at that one), but I was just trying to paint a picture for those of you interested. What may have seemed painful or uncomfortable for me may seem no big deal to others. In other donor’s experiences I’ve read the donors seemed to find it less uncomfortable than I did, but I wanted to paint a picture of what I went through.
Now my prayers are with the recipient, I hope that the transplant is successful and that I was able to give her the gift of life she needs for a long, healthy and happy life.