Student donates bone marrow through drive

A simple cheek swab could be a College of William and Mary student’s first step toward saving a life.

Students will have a chance to register their bone marrow type at the 18th Annual Alan Bukzin Memorial Bone Marrow Drive, which takes place tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Sadler Center Chesapeake A.
Each year the drive registers hundreds of students and community members with the National Marrow Donor Program’s Registry to potentially donate bone marrow and save a life.

“Honestly, it takes about 15 minutes of your time, and all you have to do is give a cheek swab and fill out some paperwork right now, and it keeps you in the registry until you’re 60,” organizer Julia Pentz ’09 said. “Down the road, who knows where you’re going to be in life? You could end up being a match for someone’s child who has leukemia or some young person in college or someone’s grandmother even.”

Students can register by giving a check swab, which is then tested for marrow type and entered into the national registry.

Each swab registration costs $52. Organizers of the drive have been raising money all year through fundraising events such as the Mr. William and Mary Pageant, a Charter Day gala and a golf tournament.
Organizers of this year’s drive hopes to register 1,000 people, a goal Pentz said is attainable yet ambitious.

“Between the drive that we held in Staunton, Va. in February and this drive, and the drive at the law school and the community drive in Williamsburg, we stand a chance of getting close to that goal,” Pentz said.

The February 12 drive registered 70 people, according to Pentz. The law school drive takes place tomorrow, and the community drive takes place Saturday.

Hoping to register a substantial number of minorities who are underrepresented in the national registry, organizers have been visiting campus minority groups about donations.

Many students have been matched as compatible donors through past drives — six students were matched and three donated marrow in the last year, according to event organizers.

Evan Brown ’09 was one such student. After registering in 2006, he was identified in October 2007 as a match for a 67-year-old man with acute myelogenous leukemia.

Doctors performed more tests and confirmed Brown as the best match for the patient. Brown agreed to donate his marrow in November 2007.

Although marrow is sometimes extracted through the pelvis or other bones, for Brown the doctors decided to perform a less invasive procedure called a peripheral blood stem cell donation. The procedure involves a week of injections that make the marrow’s useful components enter the bloodstream. Brown’s entire supply of blood was then run through a machine that extracted the important matter and returned the blood to his body.

“The injections were kind of painful leading up to it, but the actual procedure wasn’t that bad, and then within a day or two I felt fine,” Brown said.

Brown was contacted again last summer for another donation for the man, but the patient’s condition deteriorated to the point when doctors felt a transplant would not be worthwhile. Brown said he heard that the man died earlier this year.

“It’s pretty incredible that just by going down to a simple drive registration I helped at least extend this guy’s life,” he said. “I’m really happy that we have our drive on this campus because I never ever would have gotten involved with something like this if a friend hadn’t told me to go get registered.”

Brown also noted that the College is recognized in the bone marrow transplant community for its high levels of participation.

“Every step of the way, doctors and nurses told me how many William and Mary people they deal with because our drive is so successful,” Brown said. “In this sort of tiny niche medical community of bone marrow donations, William and Mary is really considered a leader. So that makes me really proud to go to a school where that’s our reputation.”


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