November 30, 2010

Bone Marrow: ‘Get Swabbed, Save a Life’

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Last month, the 11-year-old star of the Lion King on Broadway, Shannon Taverez, passed away from myelogenous leukemia. As a mixed race minority, half black and half Hispanic, Taverez faced a difficult search to find a suitable bone marrow donor.

As compared to blood donors, bone marrow donors must be more similar to their recipients — and yet, there are significant differences in tissues among races. Minorities and mixed races are underrepresented in bone marrow registrations.

While Alicia Keys, 50 Cent and Rhianna urged their fans to register as donors for Taverez, Cornell has The Pre-Professional Association Toward Careers in Health (PATCH). The second yearly drive this fall encouraged 187 members of the community to register with DKMS Americas and the Bone Marrow Donor Center.

According to Kat Kiminski ’12, the drives allowed her to make a difference and to combat a personal loss.

During Kiminski’s freshman year, her best friend’s sister, a senior at Hamilton College, died of acute leukemia complications, three weeks after being diagnosed.

“It was so hard … just the fact that a perfectly healthy college student could be gone in the matter of weeks,” said Kiminski.

In her friend’s honor, her first drive last year registered over 187 participants.

The swabbing process allows a sampling of cheek cells that can assess the similarity of donors and recipients.

“Cornell is a unique population to have a bone marrow drive. There is a diverse student population,” said Catherine Spallina ’11, PATCH co-community service chair.

According to Spallina, the experience opened her eyes to the number of people that leukemia affects.

“Three to six hours to spend during donation to save someone’s life — it makes no sense to me why you wouldn’t want to,” Spallina said.

PATCH strives to educate about are the misconceptions in the media regarding bone marrow donation.

There are two general ways to donate bone marrow. The most common one is to donate platelets. While this is a long, outpatient procedure, it has no lasting effects.

The second procedure, which “gets a bad rap for being painful” according to Kiminski, is a direct extraction from the lower portion of a donor’s back. According to DKMS, the procedure requires anesthesia, and causes some soreness, but does not produce any lasting effects.

PATCH also aims to educate people about what it means to be a registered donor.

While DKMS wants registration to be pledge, potential donors are not under any contract; if contacted, they can judge if it is a proper situation to donate.

“Our motto is ‘Get swabbed, save a life.’ It’s that simple,” said Kiminski.

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar