The National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP) facilitates more than 400 transplants a month, and for every one of those transplants, an NMDP search coordinator helped manage the donor search. Search coordinators — like Grace – communicate requests between transplant centers, donor centers and umbilical cord blood banks and manage a myriad of details to make sure all the pieces fall into place to make transplants happen.
“Everything I do is directly connected to a specific patient,” Grace said. “I know the challenges faced by the patients I’m helping, and that keeps me motivated.”
The process begins with the doctor
A patient’s doctor begins the search for a donor by requesting a report from the NMDP of possible matches. This report includes members of the Be The Match Registry, as well as umbilical cord blood units stored at participating public cord blood banks throughout the country. NMDP search coordinators also provide reports from international cooperative donor registries.
The next step is for a patient’s doctor to request additional testing on one or more potential donors or umbilical cord blood units. An NMDP search coordinator reviews each request and forwards it to the donor center that will contact the potential donor or to a cord blood bank.
When a donor is selected
Maintaining donors’ and patients’ privacy is very important. To keep the identity of donors and patients confidential, search coordinators manage communications between the patient’s transplant center and the donor center.
After medical testing and other preparatory meetings with the donor center to confirm the donor is eligible and willing to donate, the search coordinator usually helps schedule donation and transplant dates. The donation date must accommodate both the donor’s schedule and the patient’s treatment plan, so scheduling typically requires many phone calls or e-mails back and forth. Search coordinators often handle these communications to streamline the process.
Making transplants happen when timing is critical
On any given day, Grace may be supporting up to forty patients by facilitating their search process. She adheres to quality control checklists for every doctor’s search request to ensure they meet NMDP standards and move forward in a timely way. “When something comes in, you have to take care of it immediately,” she said.
“Like most people who work at the NMDP,” Grace said, “I like that we’re working to save patient’s lives.” When she talks to staff at the transplant center, she hears about what the patient is going through “and that makes my work much more real.”
A search coordinator’s role ends when the search process is complete. “I wish I knew what happened to the patients after that,” Grace said. “But we don’t see that side.” Once the search is complete and marrow donation scheduled, Grace and the other search coordinators move on to focus on the next patient’s search.