Students register to donate marrow

VCU’s chapter of Be the Cure on Campus hosted a bone marrow registry event in the honors college where students could join the national registry by completing a cheek swab. Photo by Jess Lee.

Ali Jones
Contributing Writer

VCU students can now assume an active role in helping others suffering from various diseases through a new organization, Be the Match on Campus.

The organization came to VCU in January 2014, and there are chapters nationwide, including other Virginia schools such as Virginia Tech, James Madison, University of Virginia, William and Mary and Christopher Newport. Be the Match on Campus is part of a larger organization, Be the Match, which is a subunit of the National Marrow Donor Program.

Laura Gariepy, head of teaching and learning at Cabell Library and president of Be the Match on campus, brought a chapter to VCU after learning more about Be the Match and it’s need for donors.

“Bringing Be the Match on Campus to VCU is so nice … the population is so heavy and diversified, which is great for donations,” Gariepy said.

Virginia’s only longest, continuously operating comprehensive bone marrow transplant program is at VCU’s Medical Center, which is already partnered with Be the Match, creating a great synergy with the new chapter, Gariepy said.

When registered with Be the Match, one is placed on a national list, but with local drives, the organization tends to be able to recruit an ethnically similar mix.

Matches are usually difficult to find, as the numbers are heavily tilted toward the white population; 93 percent of whites are able to find matches, while smaller minorities like African Americans are only at 63 percent, Gariepy said.

More than two-thirds of transplants originate from Be the Match; many who register will never be contacted for a match, but everyone is helpful, and those who are more diverse or an ethnic minority are in higher demand, said John McCarty, M.D., director of the Bone Marrow Transplant program.

“People don’t get transplants unless they’re at their last stop,” Gariepy said. “You have to think about what you’re giving someone.”

The transplant program at VCU performs approximately 160-170 marrow transplants a year, McCarty said. Across the United States, more than 55,000 transplants have occurred through Be the Matchsince 1987 when the organization was formed, and nearly 6,000 transplants occured in 2012 alone.

Formed in 1987 as well, the Massey Cancer Center and  Bone Marrow Transplant Program at VCU received the 2013 Community Partnership award through the National Marrow Donor Program.

Seventy-five percent of transplants and donations are through the peripheral blood stem cells, which is extracted through an apheresis machine, and 25 percent are through the harvesting of bone marrow, which is a simple outpatient general procedure,               Gariepy said.

VCU’s transplant program utilizes the peripheral blood stem cells the most often, but occasionally uses bone marrow, McCarty said.

The registry targets those between 18 and 44, and many are encouraged to participate in the drives to join the registry.

With three drives under its belt, VCU’s Be the Match on Campus has another drive occurring April 28 on the Monroe Park Campus, hoping to further the diversification of the bone marrow transplant list.

Judy Davis, the transplant coordinator for the Bone Marrow Transplant program at VCU, said any participation in the community is extremely helpful, and how college campuses are good for finding participants that are young, healthy and diverse.

“It’s so hard to find donors that match up to diverse ethnicities, and VCU has the chance to increase those levels,” Davis said.

Kristen Donovan, assistant director for substance abuse prevention at the Wellness Resource Center, participated in Be the Match when she was an undergraduate at her college in North Carolina.

Registering her freshman year of college, she never expected the letter Red Cross that arrived her senior year, stating she was a match.

“I found out it was a 27-year-old male with a wife and kids that needed my bone marrow donation,” Donovan said. “After a year I was able to be in contact with him. This past year, I received a letter saying he got to walk his daughter down the aisle, and a thank you for being able to watch his kids grow up.”

Donovan had her bone marrow extracted from her pelvis and hip bone after being placed under anesthesia, and was in class the           next day.

“Chances are you won’t get called after you take a cheek swab, but it’s such a cool experience to have a good impact on someone else,” Donovan said.

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