Donating to save lives

RAF Lakenheath Airmen hosted a Salute to Life bone marrow drive at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 21-22. Bone marrow transplants can help save the lives of people diagnosed with a variety of cancers and diseases. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

RAF Lakenheath Airmen hosted a Salute to Life bone marrow drive at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 21-22. Bone marrow transplants can help save the lives of people diagnosed with a variety of cancers and diseases. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- You don’t have to jump in front of a bullet or pull someone from a burning car to save a life.

It can be as easy as signing up to be a bone marrow donor.

In the hopes of building up the pool of potential donors on the Department of Defense registry, RAF Lakenheath Airmen hosted a Salute to Life bone marrow drive from Feb. 21-22 here.

“The purpose of the drive is to register those who are willing to donate bone marrow to a person in need,” said a 48th Operations Support Squadron Airman organizing the event. “We’re trying to get as many people as we can to [sign up as potential donors].”

Bone marrow is the soft inner tissue of bones. It is comprised of hematopoietic stem cells, which produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Transplants can help save the lives of people diagnosed with cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, as well as those suffering from sickle cell anemia and severe aplastic anemia.

“Every year 12,000 people are diagnosed with an illness that requires a bone marrow transplant,” the 48th OSS Airman said.

According to the Salute to Life website, patients in need of a bone marrow transplant require them to get blood-producing stem cells from a compatible donor. Only 30% of people are able to find a blood-related donor.

Becoming a potential bone marrow donor requires only a cheek swab, which is used to determine each person’s Human Leukocyte Antigen type. The HLA is then used to match patients with compatible bone marrow donors.

“[The results from the cheek swab] places you on the registry to potentially save a life,” the 48th OSS Airman said. “It goes on the Department of Defense bone marrow registry, which is also linked to the national registry.”

The program’s affiliation with the National Marrow Donor Program means that all Salute to Life donors also have the potential to help both military and civilians in need of a transplant.