Now more than ever, the importance of second chances at life

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As an international non-profit organization, every day DKMS provides 20 lifesaving blood stem cell transplants for blood cancer and blood disorder patients all around the world. Even in the current situation that we are facing with COVID-19, these patients still urgently need our help. It is for this reason that we keep fighting and continue to work together and collaborate with the international blood stem cell community to be able to overcome all barriers, to give as many patients as possible, who are in urgent need of a life-saving blood stem cell transplant, with a second chance at life.

Importance of registration

Due to the advice and directions from the health authorities regarding the COVID-19 virus and to play our part to flatten the curve, we have postponed all of our planned donor drives/registration events in all of our six countries. We want to make sure that we look after and protect all of our donors and volunteers. For the thousands of patients around the world who are not able to find a perfect match, we still urgently need to add more donors to the database. We are thankful for every registration and you can still order your registration kit online at www.dkms.org. Registering is simple and straightforward and you can become a potential lifesaver!

Protecting our donors

Patients around the world still urgently need blood stem cell transplants to survive. This is why we ask all of our donors to make themselves available if they are a match for a patient. The health and well-being of our donors is our number one priority and we consider every case on an individual basis. We will always do everything possible to ensure the safety of our donors.

We have implemented screening for the COVID-19 virus risks before entry to collection centers and before the start of a donation.

These measures serve to protect the donor as well as the recipient and the employees in the collection centers. Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

We are grateful for every one of our incredible donors and for their commitment to providing patients with a second chance at life.

Transport of blood stem cell products

75% of all of our life-saving blood stem cell collections from DKMS donors travel across borders to patients in other countries. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries because of the COVID-19 virus, we are faced with additional challenges in ensuring patients receive their transplant.

When it comes to transplants, time is crucial and we are determined to find solutions to be able to provide patients in need with their transplant. We are joining forces with other members of the international transplant community and national and international authorities in order to overcome these challenges. Despite the added difficulties that we are facing at the moment, as always, we are determined to overcome all barriers in order to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life.

FAQs

1. Why do all DKMS donor drives and registration events remain on hold?

Based on the advice and directions from the health authorities regarding the COVID-19 virus, we made the original decision to postpone all of our planned donor drives and registration events in all of our seven countries. The health and safety of our staff, donors, volunteers and supporters is always our priority. Due to the current situation, the donor drives and registration events will remain on hold for the foreseeable future since holding such events would place an unnecessary risk on everyone involved in and attending the event.

We remain committed to our mission of providing as many second chances at life as possible to blood cancer and blood disorder patients around the world. Thousands of patients are still searching for a matching donor and that is why it is extremely important to continue to register as many donors as possible. We encourage everyone who is able to, to register online and order a swab kit at www.dkms.org. Registering is simple and straightforward and you could become a potential lifesaver!

2. Am I still able to register online if I suspect that I may have or do have COVID- 19?

Unfortunately it is not possible to register as a blood stem cell donor for anyone who is under ordered quarantine. This includes acute COVID-19 patients, those who have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and people they have been in contact with. Please wait until you are no longer in quarantine and are able to leave your home before ordering a swab kit so that you will also be able to safely return it to us.

3. What if I am not allowed to leave the house. How do I return my registration kit?

We ask everyone to please follow the guidelines and regulations in place for your local area, our donors’ safety is our number one priority and this means both potential and registered donors. If you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, have been in contact with someone who has been confirmed with the COVID-19 virus or if local authorities have advised you to stay at home then please wait until you are able to leave home to do your cheek swab and return your kit to us. However, if you are able to leave your home, then we are always happy to receive completed registration kits! Please remember that the swab kits are fine to use for approximately two years, so while we normally ask you to please return them as soon as possible, due to the current circumstances, please only do this when it is safe you for to do so. However, once you have done your check swabs it is always best if we receive your swabs within 2 – 3 weeks, so if you are not able to currently post your swabs back then please wait to do your check swabs until you know that you can send them back. Please remember, if you have already done your swabs then please only send them back once it is safe to do so.

4. When I receive my swab kit at home, is it safe to handle and open it? Should I wear gloves?

Human corona viruses are not very stable on dry surfaces, such as paper or cardboard; this means that they do not survive very long on these materials. The stability depends on many factors, including the temperature, humidity, the viral quantity and the material. According to a US publication(1) from March 17th, the decay of the COVID-19 virus in a dried state takes up to 24 hours on cardboard, which as a material can be compared to our swab kits. Therefore, a transmission is unlikely, but cannot be excluded. To protect yourself from virus transmission through possibly contaminated surfaces we advise donors to follow the general hygiene recommendations such as regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face. (1) https://www.nejm.org

5. If I don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms or haven’t been diagnosed with the virus, should I take extra precautions before using?

If you do not have any COVID-19 symptoms and have not tested positive for the virus in the last 28 days, then you do not need to take any special precautions when taking your check swabs, except for following the general hygiene and physical distancing rules and recommendations. Please also remember it is not possible to register as a blood stem cell donor for anyone who is under ordered quarantine. This includes acute COVID-19 patients, those who have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and people they have been in contact with. Our swab kits are ok to use for approximately two years, so you can keep the kit at home and complete the process once it is safe to do so.

6. Do I need to leave my kit in quarantine before sending it back?

It is not necessary to put your kit in quarantine before sending it back to us. To protect all of our staff, when we receive the swab kits back in our office, before handling the kits and swabs, we wait for the minimum amount of time until the risk of transmission of the virus can be excluded. However, please follow the guidelines from your local authorities and only leave your home when it is safe to do so and if you are not under quarantine restrictions.

7. I registered online and haven’t received a confirmation, is there a delay?

We ask anyone registering as a potential donor online for their understanding. Normally we send all registration kits that we receive to our lab within 24 hours, however we are currently waiting 7 days until we do this to ensure the protection of our staff handling the returned registration kits. Please be assured that the analysis of your sample and HLA characteristics that is required for us to add you to the register, will take place as soon as possible.

8. How will DKMS maintain the safety of donors?

The health and safety of our donors is our highest priority. We will consider the circumstances of all of our donors who are asked to donate their bone marrow and blood stem cells, on an individual basis, especially regarding their travel to a collection center. Please be reassured that we provide the best and safest solution possible for our donors.

Unfortunately, donors who live in high risk areas have to be blocked for search requests, as they are currently not eligible to proceed with a donation. We also have implemented screening for the COVID-19 virus risks before entry to any collection center and before the start of a donation. These measures serve to protect the donor as well as the recipient and the employees in the collection centers. Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that the novel Coronavirus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

Please also understand that any planned collection may be postponed or cancelled due to the current situation. We will keep you informed about all developments. Regarding the transport of blood stem cell products to the respective transplant clinics, we are in regular and close contact with all parties involved as well as with all relevant national and international authorities and organizations, to ensure that all blood stem cell collections can reach the patients.

9. Is there an increased chance of donors contracting the COVID-19 virus during the donation procedure or preparation?

There is no risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus as a result of a blood stem cell collection. The health and safety of our donors is our number one priority and we will always ensure all procedures are in place to protect their safety.

10. Can donors postpone their donation at this time?

The final decision to donate is always made by the actual donor. If you have been asked to donate and have any concerns, please contact your DKMS coordinator. We evaluate each case on an individual basis to find the best solution for all parties involved.

11. Is it still safe for patients to receive a transplant?

Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that the novel Coronavirus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

12. How is the transport of collections from donors impacted by the current travel restrictions?

The majority of blood stem cell collections from DKMS donors travel across borders to patients in other countries. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries we are in regular and close contact with all parties involved in the transport, as well as with the relevant national and international authorities and organizations. Despite the added difficulties that we are facing at the moment, we are, as always, determined to overcome all barriers in order to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life.

13. How is DKMS responding to the current travel restrictions in the US?

Due to the restrictions on entry into the USA, DKMS has been in contact with the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) and the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). Together, we obtained special permits for stem cell couriers from Germany and Europe to enter the USA.

14. How will the spread of the COVID-19 virus affect DKMS and its operations?

As with every organization across the world, DKMS faces challenges caused by COVID-19 and some of the potential impacts are still not yet known. The goal of DKMS remains the same as it always has been and that is, together with our outstanding team of donors and employees, to give as many patients as possible around the world a second chance at life, through a life-saving bone marrow and blood stem cell transplant. The management team of DKMS is working around the clock together with all DKMS employees and relevant stakeholders to achieve this goal.

15. How will DKMS respond as the situation evolves?

A dedicated team made up of experts from relevant departments at DKMS is constantly monitoring and evaluating the ongoing situation and will act accordingly. We will continue to keep our donors and all stakeholders updated.

16. Is DKMS testing potential donors during the registration process?

DKMS does not test potential donors who register with us for the COVID-19 virus. If you are confirmed to have the virus, we ask that you do not register with us for the next 3 months. For donors who are asked to donate we have implemented screening for the COVID-19 virus risks before entering any collection center and before the start of a donation. These measures serve to protect the donor as well as the recipient and the employees in the collection center.

17. If I am a potential donor and I have questions, who should I contact?

If you have been contacted by DKMS as a potential donor and if you have any questions or concerns, you are encourage to contact your DKMS coordinator. As always, DKMS staff is there to help you through the process and answer any questions that you may have.

FAQs for Actual Donors

1. How does COVID-19 (stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, travel restrictions, overloaded hospitals etc.) impact the donation process?

Blood cancer patients around the world are still in urgent need of blood stem cell transplants and many are still not able to find a matching donor. This is why DKMS continues to encourage everyone that is able to, to register as a blood stem cell donor.

Due to lockdown and/or stay-at-home-orders, we have implemented alternative measures for the donation process to avoid for example blood collections at a general physician. The risk of transmission during the journey to the collection center on the day of donation can be reduced to a minimum. Instead of taking public transport, DKMS recommends a private/rental car or a taxi in order to get to the collection center. The collection centers have implemented additional precautionary measures, such as screenings for COVID-19 virus risks, to protect donors and the employees. The majority of blood stem cell collections from DKMS donors travel across borders to patients in other countries. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries, we are in regular and close contact with all parties involved in the transport, as well as with the relevant national and international authorities and organizations. Despite the added difficulties that we are facing at the moment, as always we are determined to overcome all barriers in order to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life. Because of the current situation, planned stem cell donations might be postponed or even cancelled. We kindly ask for your understanding and will keep you informed about any new developments.

2. With the current COVID-19 measures, do hospitals and other medical facilities have the capacity to perform blood stem cell collections? Are these considered essential procedures?

As is the case with every health care institution worldwide, DKMS and all its partners are facing challenges caused by COVID-19. Due to possible staff shortages or an increasing need of ventilators for patients with COVID-19, capacities for blood stem cell collections may be lower than normal. However, we are prepared for this potential situation and will do everything that we can, together with our outstanding team of donors and employees, to provide every patient in need of a blood stem cell transplant with a second chance at life.

3. What if I am diagnosed with COVID-19, am I allowed to donate?

If you have a confirmed COVID-19 infection, a blood stem cell donation is not possible until 28 days after the infection has passed. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or are awaiting test results, please inform your DKMS Case Manager or the Collection Center as soon as possible. The preliminary examination or blood stem cell donation will not be able to take place as planned.

4. What if I get flu-like/ respiratory symptoms right before I am scheduled to donate?

If you develop symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, fever, headache and/or limb pain please inform your DKMS Case Manager or the Collection Center as soon as possible. The medical checks and/or donation might not take place as planned.

5. Does DKMS recommend any special behavior concerning the prevention of a COVID-19 infection?

We recommend that all donors follow the WHO guidelines on hygiene: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-f...

6. I am a medical doctor/nurse and risk possible infection day in and day out, can I still move forward with the donation process?

If you have a higher risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus due to your occupation, for example if you are a health professional or a cashier, you can still move forward with the donation process. However, it is important to inform your DKMS Case Manager or the Collection Center as soon as possible in case you develop any symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, fever, headache and/or limb pain or in case you have been in close contact with a someone who has been confirmed to have or is suspected of having COVID-19. If you work in a medical field which is essential during the current pandemic, such as ICU, and/or cannot be absent from work due to healthcare staff shortages, please inform your DKMS Case Manager to find the best possible solution.

7. Is it safe for me to go to the lab/hospital for appointments considering recommendations to self-quarantine and stay at home?

Our medical partners are all taking extraordinary precautions to protect staff and patients. Here is a list of the most common medical centers we ask our donor’s to visit. To learn more about their COVID-19 policies, click on the facility you are scheduled at.

  • LabCorp
  • Concentra
  • Collection and Apheresis centers

    LABCORP

    "Walt Where You're Comfortable" Program: LabCorp has also taken a number of steps to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to ensure the safety of our patients, employees, and the broader community. This includes social distancing, which is the focus of our newly-implemented "Wait Where You're Comfortable" program. Patients can make an appointment online, provide a cell phone number, check in from their mobile device, and wait in their vehicles or other nearby location. When the LabCorp technician is ready to see them, the patients receive a text message. Walk-in patients can also participate in the program by signing in at the LabCorp Express tablet and providing their cell phone number. Please note: While LabCorp continues to perform the laboratory testing needed by you and your patients, LabCorp does not either collect COVID-19 samples or perform COVID-19 testing at its PSCs. People who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 are asked to contact their healthcare provider and not enter a LabCorp PSC.

    CONCENTRA

    Concentra is taking all possible precautions to minimize the risk of exposure to patients and our staff. The following processes have been implemented to enable us to continue to provide care to employees and other patients without exposing them to potentially infected patients. In addition, these measures will help protect the health of our team members to enable them to continue to provide care to non-COVID-19 patients.

    RIGOROUS CLINICAL TRIAGE.

    Although COVID-19 screening and testing will not be conducted in Concentra medical centers, we have implemented an enhanced clinical triage process to detect potential COVID-19 cases and provide instructions to patients as appropriate.

    SEPARATING THE SICK.

    Concentra have posted notifications on the doors to our centers to instruct individuals with COVID-19 symptoms to use drive-through/outdoor testing stations where available or contact their health care provider or local health department. However, should the site identify as a potential COVID-19 case, the patient will immediately be moved to designated areas or rooms to separate this individual from other patients and staff.

    ENHANCED CLEANING PROTOCOLS.

    Concentra has implemented strict cleaning regimens that include frequent disinfection of door handles and other hard surfaces to help reduce and mitigate possible contamination. Hand sanitizer is available and frequent hand washing is encouraged.

    COLLECTION / APHERESIS CENTER PARTNERS

    Our collection / apheresis center partners are raking the following actions to limit exposure risk for staff and patients/donors obtaining treatment within their facilities:

    • Phone assessments prior to appointments.
    • Temperature check and symptoms assessment prior to entry
    • Limiting access to companions. Companions will be provided updates on donor progress and are requested to remain at hotel. Companions will be allowed to meet donors following donation procedure outside the facility.

8. Will there be any additional screenings?

Before Physical Examination: DKMS has implemented screening for COVID-19 risks. The DKMS Case Manager will discuss any possible symptoms with donors. Additionally, donors receive an information sheet and are asked to actively and immediately inform their Case Manager or the collection center if necessary.

During/after Physical Examination: Before entry to collection centers and before the start of a donation, the collection centers have implemented screening for COVID-19 risks. All donors will have a risk history check before entering the collection center. If this shows that the donor could potentially be infected with COVID-19, a test for the COVID-19 virus will be carried out. These are the questions of the risk anamnesis:

  • Are you currently experiencing any symptoms of a respiratory infection such as a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, fever, headache and aching limbs?
  • Have you been or are you ill with COVID-19 or have you tested positive for the COVID-19 virus?
  • Have you been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or a suspected case in the last 4 weeks?
  • Have you been abroad in the last 4 weeks?

9. How will the donation process affect my immune system?

The health and well-being of our donors is our number one priority. We conduct a medical long-term observation of our donors to identify any potential adverse reactions to a blood stem cell donation. So far, a relevant immunodeficiency as a result of a blood stem cell or bone marrow donation has not been proven.

10. Will I be able to bring someone along with me for the day of donation with COVID-19?

Unfortunately, accompanying persons are currently not allowed to enter the collection center. This is for your own safety as well as the protection of staff and other donors.

11. IS IT SAFE FOR MY PATIENT MATCH TO RECEIVE A TRANSPLANT DURING THIS PANDEMIC?

The COVID-19 pandemic is greatly impacting patient care. Transplant centers are reassessing treatment timeframes for all patients as a way to mitigate the heightened risk of infection. Patients in stable condition with slower progressing diseases may be able to postpone their transplants to later in the year. However, for many patients with more aggressive diseases such as acute myeloid leukemia, transplant delays is not an option. As a results, transplant centers are exploring other stem cell sources such as cord blood and haplo-transplant. These may still this not be a viable option for many patients. There are no evidence suggesting the CO can be transmitted through blood. Therefore, we will continue to work with donor matches to help every patient in need. We are committed to supporting our donors make a decision they feel confident and comfortable in.

12. I AM CONCERNED ABOUT TRAVELING FOR DONATION. WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MYSELF?

We understand you may be concerned about travel and exposing yourself to potential risks. We strictly follow the CDC guidelines when arranging your travels. If traveling for donation will affect your ability to return to work or other duties, please let us know right away. We will look for alternative options for your donation. With stay-at-home orders in many states, DKMS is taking step to limit travel locally as well. However, due to the limited capacities at medical centers at this time, donors may be asked to consider driving a 5-6 hour distance to another state. These are some options we will discuss with you before making the final decision. You can find additional information on risk locations and travel recommendations on the CDC website.

13. ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO TRAVELING FOR DONATION?

There may be alternatives to traveling for donation. It may be possible to arrange for donation at a medical center within driving distance. This may require you to repeat the physical exam and/or other tests. We are happy to discuss all the possibilities with you. If you feel uncomfortable traveling, we respect your decision. However, it is extremely important that you tell us right way so we can explore other options. Donation is time-sensitive, and any delay can have a negative impact on the recipient’s wellbeing.

14. SHOULD I WEAR A MASK DURING MY TRAVELS, APPOINTMENTS AND/OR THE DONATION ITSELF?

As per CDC recommendations, you will have to wear a facemask when out in public. The purpose of this is to protect from the spread and limit the exposure to COVID-19.

15. WHAT IS CRYOPRESERVATION OF STEM CELLS AND WHY IS IT BEING RECOMMENDED FOR MY DONATION?

Cryopreservation is the freezing of stem cells. After your donation, your cells will be sent to your recipient’s transplant center. The transplant center will freeze and store your cells until the recipient is ready for transplant. Because travel and logistics recommendations are changing rapidly, the Nation Marrow Donor registry is recommending that transplant centers consider cryopreserving all donation. This allows you to make your donation before a patient begins their time-sensitive preparation regimen. It helps transplant centers avoid any issues that could occur if you are unable to donate on the prearranged date.

16. WHAT HAPPENS IF I GET SICK DURING TRAVEL FOR DONATION?

DKMS will cover the costs for your assessment, testing and/or treatment of your illness if you acquire COVID-19 or any other infection as a result of travel for donation.

17. DOES BONE MARROW OR STEM CELL DONATION COMPROMISE MY IMMUNE SYSTEM?

WILL I BE AT INCREASED RISK OF CONTRACTING AN INFECTION OR HAVING TROUBLE FIGHTING AN INFECTION AFTER DONATION? We do not have any evidence to show that bone marrow or stem cell donation negatively affects a donor’s immune function or makes them more prone to illness after donation. A donor’s risk contracting COVID-19 or other infections is no greater than other adults in their age range. As always, we strongly encourage good hygiene practices as recommended by the CDC to keep you safe and free of infection.

18. DOES FILGRASTIM PUT ME AT A HIGHER RISK OF INFECTIONS?

The national registry follows up with all donors of PBSC for adverse events, including signs and symptoms of infection. In over 35,000 donors, we have not seen an increase in infections in our donors. In transplant patients, filgrastim is actually used to increase the white blood cell count to speed engraftment and reduce risk of infection.

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