Monday, October 01, 2007

October 1, 2007 - Avast, Ye Swabs!

Somehow I missed observing International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th, but at least I get to use a little pirate lingo here. I have no idea who started this scurvy holiday, but methinks it’s an excellent idea. Arrrr, me hearties, but don’t ye know, ye can’t talk like a pirate without bringin’ a smile to yer face!

So how did I get on that subject, anyway? Swabs! Yes, it was swabs.

About noon today, the Manse doorbell rings. It’s a FedEx driver with a big plastic envelope for me, containing four sterile cotton swabs, along with instructions for using them to take four samples of cells from the inside of my cheek. This is for my HLA testing – the DNA test that will determine the baseline that will be used to find a compatible donor for a possible stem-cell transplant for me.

Following the instructions exactly, I gingerly pick up each swab, making sure it doesn’t touch any surface other than the inside of my cheek. I swallow first (the instructions say it’s not a saliva test), then rub each one vigorously on the inside of my cheek, with the same amount of pressure I use when brushing my teeth (again, just as the instructions say). Then, I wave them in the air for a minute or so to dry them, before placing a name-and-date label on each swab’s handle and positioning it in one of four slots cut into a little foam-rubber block. Into another courier-service envelope they go (DHL Express this time, for the return trip). I drop them in a DHL collection box in the parking lot of a real-estate agency down the street.

It’s got to be one of the easiest medical tests I’ve ever undergone. The implications of this test, though, could be huge.


Unknown said...

Hey, Carl, can I take one of those tests to see if my DNA is compatable with yours and I could loan you some of my bone marrow? I would gladly do it if we matched. Jean Pinto

Carl said...


Thanks so much for this offer. It means a lot.

It's probably a bit premature, though, because (1) I haven't heard yet whether or not my brothers are compatible, and (2) it's not looking like I'm going to be needing a bone marrow transplant for quite some time, if at all.

Siblings are always best for allogeneic transplants, if they're compatible. After that, the usual procedure is for the hospital to search on the National Bone Marrow Registry. My impression is that compatibility is such a complex matter that it takes a search of thousands of donor profiles before a compatible donor is found (if one can be found at all).

You could visit the National Bone Marrow Registry website ( and find out how to get typed, if you wish - putting your name out there for patients all over the world.

BTW, stem cells are usually harvested through a lengthy blood donation process, rather than by going directly into the bone marrow under anesthesia, as used to be done in the past. It's a lot easier on the donor.

Thanks again, Jean. You have a wonderfully generous spirit!