5-year-old Thornhill girl looking for bone marrow match

Five-year-old Sarah Watkin was having good day on Tuesday. For her that meant a day with no needles and no pain.

Becoming a bone marrow donor is easier than donating blood

5-year-old looking for a bone marrow donor. 2:32

Five-year-old Sarah Watkin was having good day on Tuesday.  For her that meant a day with no needles and no pain.

Sarah, from Thornhill, has been living at Toronto's Sick Children's Hospital since last October, almost since the time she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. 

Her mother, Leah, left her job and even shaved off her long locks to match Sarah's. 

How can I check if I am a match and donate?

First, a swipe of a cotton swab on your inner cheek for 10 seconds will provide enough of a tissue sample to verify whether you are a match.

You can either get swabbed at a bone marrow drive event, or, you can use a Buccal Swab kit and take a sample at home before mailing it in.

Then, if you are a match and agree to donate, bone marrow stem cells are taken from your hip bone, says Canadian Blood Services.  This procedure is done under general anesthetic, so the donor experiences no pain. A special needle is inserted into the iliac crest and the marrow is extracted. The amount of marrow taken ranges from 500 to 1500 millilitres, and the marrow will then replenish itself in about three weeks.

Bone marrow donors can expect to feel some soreness in their lower back, and some may feel tired or some discomfort for a couple of days. Some donors may take a few weeks before they feel fully recovered, but most are back to their usual routine within a few days.

Her father, Mark, took a leave of absence from his work to be by her side, renting an apartment next to the hospital.

Sarah has had more than 50 blood transfusions in the last few months.

Family and friends even held a blood donor clinic in her honour. 

Sarah's leukemia is in remission now after the latest round of chemotherapy. But if there is a relapse then a bone marrow transplant may be the only option.

Her family members are not a match — and the national bone marrow registry hasn't turned up a match either.

"The better the match the less, or smaller, the chances of transplant-related problems or mortality," said Dr. Maarten Egeler. 

The Watkins have started a Facebook page called Sarah's Drive for Hope.  They want to raise awareness and get more people to become bone marrow donors.

They point out that becoming a bone marrow donor is easier than donating blood. There are no needles involved: all that's required is taking a swab of your cheek and mailing it in. 

The bone marrow transplant, if it happens, is a relatively routine procedure.

The after-effects are a tenderness and bruising around the hip.  Some people say it's similar to taking a tumble on the ice — it leaves you a little sore for a day or two.

A bone marrow drive for Sarah will be held on Feb. 12. 

Her mother says she hopes it works, "but if we can find a match for somebody else, I feel it's all worth it."