Members of the Ithaca College community will soon have a chance to save lives beginning with nothing more than a sample of saliva.
The college will hold its fourth annual Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry Drive from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 2 in Emerson Suites.
At the drive, which is organized by the varsity football team and sponsored by the Be The Match Foundation, a bone marrow transplant organization, students and community members can have their cheeks swabbed to be added to the Be The Match Registry.
The Be The Match Registry has about 11 million potential marrow donors in the U.S. and about 22 million potential donors worldwide, according to Be The Match.
According to Be The Match, people with certain diseases, like leukemia or immune system–related illnesses, need bone marrow transplants in order to help them produce their own healthy blood cells.
Be The Match looks for adults between the ages of 18 and 60 to join the registry. Younger donors have less risk of experiencing complications from donating, so doctors primarily request donations from people under the age of 44.
After joining the registry, Be The Match will contact students if they are a match for a transplant patient. They can then decide whether or not they want to donate. Bill Kolberg, associate professor and chair of the Department of Economics, said his son was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia earlier this month. Kolberg said he hopes to see students at least join the registry, even if they aren’t sure about donating.
“If you have a cheek that can be swabbed, you can do that and become a donor,” Kolberg said. “You can register as a potential donor and then decide later on if whether or not you actually want to do that.”
Kolberg’s son, Steven, is 27-years-old and lives in New York City. Steven’s diagnosis came as a shock to his family because he was so young, Kolberg said.
“It’s like this surreal thing that happened so fast, we’re still kind of getting our heads around it,” Kolberg said.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Steven Kolberg began chemotherapy. He is now in remission but will still need a bone marrow transplant in order to fully recover.
Junior Kelsey Johnson is currently enrolled in Kolberg’s class, Environmental Economics. Johnson said the class has tried to be supportive of Kolberg.
“We all have an understanding of the severity that such a diagnosis as Professor Kolberg’s son has been given is, so we want to be as sensitive to what he’s going through and his needs,” Johnson said. “I know that I will be participating in the donor drive.”
People on the registry can make donations through peripheral blood stem cell donation. Prior to making a PBSC donation, donors are given medication that allows them to create more blood-forming cells. According to Be The Match, during PBSC donation, blood is taken from one arm, put through a blood cell separator machine and then returned to the donor through the other arm. This process can be done in either one eight hour session or in two four to six hour sessions. About 75 percent of donors use PBSC donation.
People can also donate bone marrow directly through a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is drawn from the pelvis. Be The Match states that during this procedure, patients are given anesthesia and typically feel no pain.
Be The Match’s website states that patients are more likely to find donors who are of the same racial or ethnic background, because transplants are based on tissue type. Kolberg’s son is of Korean descent, so Kolberg said he hopes to see more Asian students on the registry, which has only 7 percent Asian donors.
Kolberg said though it is unlikely any bone marrow donated from the college will directly help his son, students should still consider donating marrow because it can save lives.
“If you’re a match, you have a chance to save someone’s life by literally giving blood, and that’s an amazing gift,” he said. “To provide someone, somewhere with such an opportunity and a second chance at life is a big deal.”