Visalia campus all in with Be the Match Marrow Registry Drive
Every four minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer – about 12,000 people each year. For far too many of those with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia, the only hope of escaping imminent death is a bone marrow transplant, or blood marrow transfusion. Of the hundreds of thousands hoping to find blood and/or marrow donors, only about 50 percent find a volunteer ‘match.’
SJVC’s Visalia campus pulled together to try to save a few more lives. More than 170 students, staff and faculty registered with the City of Hope’s Be the Match Marrow Registry for the chance to give the greatest gift of all – life.
“We have lots of medical students here who participated because they are going into the medical field,” says Kerrie Liles, Dean of Students and registration drive organizer. “Everyone that participated felt very proud. You just got the sense that they knew that they could be part of something really big.”
Dean Liles had spent a month getting the word out, sending emails, putting up posters and going into classrooms to talk to students about the need for marrow donors. Kerrie told them about those so sick that only the very marrow from a human body could provide any promise of continued life. She gave statistics, answered questions and talked about what it meant to register as a donor for Be the Match.
On August 5th and 6th, Raquel Amezquita and Vivian Abernathy from Be the Match Marrow Registry at the City of Hope in Los Angeles came to the campus to assist with donor registrations, take four cheek swabs (upper/lower, right/left) from participants and explain the process of blood and marrow donation.
“The students and instructors were such a pleasure to work with,” says Raquel Amezquita. “They were all so excited about the possibility of saving someone’s life.”
One young RN student knew exactly what becoming a donor was about. Her dad was scheduled to receive a blood marrow infusion the next day. She and five of her fellow classmates went together to register as donors. It was a pretty emotional moment for them, as well as for Raquel and Vivian, as they guided the students through the process.
Donors span the ages of 18-44 and are registered in a world-wide data base of 12-14 million. If a match is made, all blood and bone marrow draws are performed at the City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles. Donors are compensated for travel expenses, including child care, food, lodging and transportation. For students, the City of Hope also provides a letter to the college Dean requesting that a student’s absence not result in any form of penalty.
The process of extraction is different depending on whether the cancer patient is an adult or a child. If a donor is matched with an adult patient, the donor is hooked up to a machine that extracts marrow from a blood line from one arm before returning it to the donor through a line in the opposite arm. The process takes a few hours.
If the donor is matched with a child the process is more intricate. Donors are put under for 60-90 minutes while marrow is extracted from the hip bone. Donors are released after a few hours of observation.
Thousands of lives are saved each year, as donors are paired with cancer patients pinning their hopes on the long-shot of a biological match. Over 600,000 potential donors are added to the registry each year – one-third with diverse ancestry – and around 5,800 cancer patients receive a marrow transplant.
It is important to have donors with diverse ethnic backgrounds, as many patients are of blended races and depend upon Be the Match to have a well-balanced pool of donors.
Donor registration is the first step toward creating those small miracles of connection.
“Everybody has a family member or friend who has been touched by cancer or leukemia, so it’s something everyone can relate to,” says Kerrie. “It was powerful and one of the things I’m most proud of being a part of,” she says of the Match drive.
The Visalia campus plans to participate in the Be the Match Registry Drive on a regular basis. Those interested in becoming a donor can order a swab kit at bethematch.org.