April 26, 2007

National Program Drives For Marrow Donors at C.U.

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Determined to gain potential bone marrow donors, the National Marrow Donor Program reserved space in the Art Gallery of Willard Straight yesterday from 12:00 to 2:30 p.m. Interested students completed an application and underwent a cheek swab in order to test their ability to match the bone marrow of a recipient.
Yesterday at the site, 73 members of both the Cornell and Ithaca communities joined the registry. According to Donor Center Recruitment Specialist, Michael Brooks, the average college that NMDP visits will only render 20 potential donors. Brooks explained that such a turnout is expected from Cornell, given the atmosphere of intellectuals.
“[We visit Cornell yearly] because of the huge, diverse population,” Brooks said. “The campus is full of young, healthy … educated students who will spread the word and raise awareness.”
Although there are currently seven million potential donors worldwide in the registry, the components of the pool are not evenly distributed.
“The primary matches are found within racial lines,” Brooks said.
He explained that matches are also more likely to occur when a donor is of the same ethnic background as the recipient. This presents a problem because the registry is composed of only eight percent African-Americans, seven percent Asians, and seven percent Latinos. Compared to the white population accounting for 56% of the potential donors, these aforementioned statistics are quite low. Therefore the NMDP pressed for minority donors, advertising this message on flyers.
When volunteer donors arrived at Willard Straight yesterday, they were initially given a sheet highlighting the possible adverse effects of the test for those with medical conditions. Upon agreeing to continue, potential donors filled out forms in order to give the NMDP both contact and demographic information. After completing a medical evaluation, these volunteers were shown how to conduct the cheek swab test.
According to Brooks, the specimen from a cheek swab enables a laboratory to read six of a total of ten antigens in the body. If these six antigens provide a match to a person in need, the volunteer is contacted and instructed to have blood work done in order to gain access to the last four antigens.
Bone marrow transplants, the eventual product of these preliminary steps, provide treatment for Sickle Cell Anemia and different forms of Leukemia.
Although the NMDP was scheduled to visit Cornell for the purposes of coming to a diverse campus, by unfortunate coincidence, a Cornell senior happens to be in need. During spring break of this year, Natasha Hodas ‘07 was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia, a rare blood disorder preventing the body from producing white, red and platelet blood cells. While she waits for a donor herself, Hodas will not put her graduation on hold, as she continues to complete both assignments and exams from her home and the hospital. Hodas and a network of friends strived to promote awareness of the testing yesterday.
“It’s providing someone with a fresh chance at life,” Hodas said. “I’ve seen how well people do after these [bone marrow] transplants. Their lives go back to normal,” she said.
Other than encouraging members of the community to attend the testing yesterday, friends of Hodas such as Alyssa Pizzolanti ’07 also suggested visiting websites such as www.marrow.org to learn more about the donation process.
The sense of community sparked by the recent diagnosis of a Cornell student, as well as the general support of human life created a spirited atmosphere in Willard Straight. To further promote an upbeat environment, sponsors such as BBMTA, Office of Minority Alumni Programs, AASA, BSU and various Greek fraternities ran activities such as a bean-bag toss, and provided refreshments for participants.
Those signing up to become members of the NMDP were firmly committed to making a difference. When asked why she was volunteering, Marisa Brook ’09 told of how she was inspired by a teacher she had in middle school. This teacher had saved someone’s life due to his donation of bone marrow, and Brook was encouraged to follow the same path.
“If I could be randomly matched to someone in need, I would be very glad to do so. [The marrow can be replenished] and it can make such a difference,” Brook said.
With its primary goal to cure the sick, the NMDP looks forward to the advancing technology expected to facilitate the matching of donor to recipient. The technology will focus on stem cell and cord blood transplants which will expand the potential number of matches in the registry.