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A Life Changing Cheek Swab

Read Time: 3 minutes

Alison Argyle

While in college, Alison Argyle registered for Be The Match, the international bone marrow registry. A simple cheek swab added her to the database of more than 33 million potential donors. She became part of the lifeline for the more than 70% of patients who need a transplant but do not have a full match within their family.

About five years after she registered, Be The Match contacted Argyle. She was a potential match for a 32-year-old female with acute myelogenous leukemia. After some bloodwork, she got a call telling her she was a definite match.

“After that phone call, I burst into to tears. It was so amazing that I was a match,” Argyle said.

About 77% of donations through Be The Match are peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donations. This procedure is much less invasive procedure than a bone marrow donation. The patient’s doctor decides which way is best. Argyle’s match needed stem cells.

PBSC donation is done through a procedure called apheresis. An IV needle goes in one arm and the blood goes through a machine that separates out the stem cells from which new blood cells are formed. The rest of the blood goes back to the donor through a needle in the other arm. The donor also receives extra fluids at the same time.

Diagram of apheresis process

Argyle prepared for PBSC donation. After a physical and bloodwork to make sure she was healthy enough to donate, for five days in a row, Argyle had shots of a drug that increased her blood production.

“The shots caused some really big bruises,” said Argyle. “But other than that it wasn’t a problem at all. I didn’t have any of the side-effects listed, so I was really lucky.”

After the shots, she and her mother made the trip from Cedar City to Salt Lake City. Be The Match covered all travel, food, and hotel expenses. Argyle checked in to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at about 7:00 a.m. on the day of her donation.

She said the worst part was the needle. “I’m terrified of needles but as long as I didn’t look at it, I was OK. I just had to tell myself it was for a great cause.”

Argyle compares the process to donating blood or platelets. It took about five hours to collect enough stem cells. The only problem she had was minor cramping due to losing calcium. Eating some antacid tablets while the donation continued cleared that up. After the donation, Argyle felt  well enough to spend the rest of the afternoon playing at Great Salt Lake with her nephews.

Be The Match followed up with her at a week, two months, six months, and a year after the donation to make sure she wasn’t having any problems. After a year, Be The Match allows donors and recipients to meet. Argyle has not met the woman she donated to, but would be open to it if the recipient reaches out. Either way, Argyle hopes she is doing well.

 “I’d love to do it again. I know the chances of being called again isn’t very likely, but I would definitely do it again. I am so happy and proud to be a part of the Be The Match program.”

Alison Argyle and her nephews

Cancer touches all of us.