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How do I find a donor or cord blood unit for my transplant?

You do not have to find your own donor. Your transplant team will work with NMDP to look for the best donor or cord blood unit for you.

When should a donor search start?

The sooner your doctor starts a donor search, the better the chance you have of getting a transplant when you need it. There are guidelines on the best time to see a transplant doctor depending your diagnosis.

If you haven’t seen a transplant doctor yet, ask your doctor if transplant may be an option for you and if you need HLA typing. They can refer you to a transplant doctor and get your HLA tested.

Your transplant team can look for a donor while you are getting other treatments.

How is a donor or cord blood unit found? 

First, your transplant team tests your blood to learn your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) type. HLA are proteins — or markers — found on most cells in your body. Then, they look for a donor or cord blood unit with HLA markers that closely match yours. Because HLA markers are inherited, your transplant team will ask to test your brothers and sisters first. If you don’t have a match in your family, your transplant team will work with NMDP to look for a matched unrelated donor or cord blood unit.

Should my family members and friends get tested for me?

If you have brothers or sisters that share your same mom and dad, your transplant team may ask to test their HLA. It is very unlikely that extended family members, such as cousins, aunts and uncles, will be a match for you. It is extremely unlikely that a friend or neighbor will match you. Ask your doctor who in your family should be tested. If your friends and family members are willing to help any patient in need, they may be able to help in other ways.

How likely is it that a match will be found for me?

Each brother and sister who has the same parents as you has a 25% chance (1 in 4) of matching you. 70% of people don't have a fully matched donor in their family.

If you don’t have a match in your family, your doctor will search the NMDP Registry to find a matched unrelated donor or cord blood unit. Depending on your ethnic background, the chance of finding a match is between 29% and 79%.

How does my transplant team know which is the best donor or cord blood unit for me?

Your transplant team will look for donors or cord blood units that match all – or most – of your HLA markers. They also test and screen potential donors to make sure they are a safe and healthy match for you. They may also consider the donor’s age and other factors to choose the best donor for you.

What if there are no perfectly matched donors or cord blood units for me?

Donors and cord blood units do not have to be perfectly matched for transplant to work well. Many patients have done well after transplant from a partially matched donor or cord blood unit. Ask your transplant team how closely matched your donor must be.

How long does it take to find a donor or cord blood unit for transplant?

Every patient’s search is different. For many patients, the donor search takes as little as 1-2 weeks from the time a donor testing request is made until the lab has the blood sample and HLA typing results. Sometimes it can take longer including some searches that may require multiple rounds of donor selections. It usually takes about 3 months from when a transplant team starts to search for a donor or cord blood unit until the day of transplant.

How do I find out how my search is going?

Contact your transplant team. They will keep you up to date on how your search is going. They have the most accurate and up-to-date information for you.

How much money will it cost me to find donor?

The search costs are different for each patient. The costs depend on health insurance coverage, how many donors need to be tested, and where the donors live. Transplant centers may charge for the search differently too. Ask your transplant center’s financial coordinator what your costs might be. Find more resources and information about paying for transplant. 

Will I get to meet my donor?

If you have an unrelated donor, you won’t know who your donor is on transplant day. There are privacy rules in place to protect you and your donor. But, there are some ways you may be able to contact your donor after transplant.  

If you have a cord blood transplant, you will never have any contact with the person who donated the cord blood.