Bone marrow transplants save lives.
Shane Joseph ’16 knows firsthand. In the fall of 2011, the cinema studies and history double major was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a medical condition characterized by low blood cell count due to decreased production by bone marrow. He was hospitalized and, the following January, he received a marrow transplant.
Currently in the final phases of his recovery process, Joseph is back to his studies at Oberlin. He's also working with the Be the Match, a bone marrow registry program, and will be registering potential bone marrow donors at Oberlin during a registry drive taking place Wednesday, March 12, in the Science Center.
Joseph is one of 28 Oberlin students working with Professor of Biology Mary Garvin on the registry drive. They will take cheek swabs from those individuals who volunteer to have their tissue type entered in the national registry. The information in the registry is used to match donors to recipients—the closer the DNA match, the more likely the donation will take.
The tissue type of both donor and recipient must match close enough for the recipient to accept the transplant, explains Garvin, the event coordinator for the bone marrow drive. About 30 percent of those in need can find matches among family members. The remaining 70 percent depend upon the registry. “The more donors who enter the national registry, the greater the probability that matching tissues types will be found for those in need. Currently, only about half of the thousands in need find a match, so we strongly encourage community members between the age of 18 and 44 to enter the registry. Those who aren’t eligible to enter, can contribute financially on our team page.”
Joseph was lucky; his donor was a 100 percent match. He says that his receipt of bone marrow motivates him. “It feels really good to be giving back to people who are going through what I know to be one of the hardest things anyone will ever have to do,” he says. “Finding a donor, that's a really difficult step for most people.”
Finding a donor is just the first step for individuals with conditions that require bone marrow transplants. After the transplant, says Joseph, “you have to be careful about everything. What you eat. What you touch. Who you come in contact with.” While his recovery has been steady, others’ often aren't. Joseph’s father, who was diagnosed with lymphoma, died from complications after receiving a marrow transplant in early 2011.
Garvin also has a personal connection to marrow donation. Several years ago her husband’s cousin died without finding a match. The current drive was inspired by her friend and undergraduate advisor, Matt Hils, professor of biology at Hiram College, who was recently diagnosed with large-cell lymphoma and has yet to find a donor, she says.
Misconceptions about the bone marrow donation process often keep people from registering, says Joseph. They fear that donating bone marrow will be an long painful process, but it is not. Most procedures consist of a simple extraction of stem cells via a syringe, while about a quarter involve taking a bone marrow sample while the donor is under anesthesia. Both procedures are out patient and of no financial cost to the donor. Details are available at bethematch.org.
The goal of Wednesday’s drive is to register donors, not collect marrow. Joseph estimates that involvement only requires about five to 10 minutes of time, but could have a huge impact. “It has the potential of saving someone,” he says.
The Be the Match Marrow Registry will take place in from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12, in the Science Center Commons.
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