‘I want to get that call and change a life’

Penn State students participate in the bone marrow registry drive Monday at the HUB-Robeson Center.
Penn State students participate in the bone marrow registry drive Monday at the HUB-Robeson Center. psheehan@centredaily.com

Betsy Slagel did some paperwork, took a swab of her mouth and registered as a bone marrow donor.

Those 15 minutes could save someone’s life.

Slagel, the Penn State Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania Thon chair, researched how a bone marrow drive worked after Brady Lucas called her in August. He is a Penn State student and Thon child who received a bone marrow transplant from his brother.

“After getting more involved, I became really passionate about it,” she said. “It’s not scary at all.”

The two worked together daily to get to this point. Monday kicked off a four-day bone marrow drive for Be The Match, a nationwide nonprofit that helps match donors to patients.

“Think of us as a library,” Be The Match Community Engagement Representative Aimee Haskew said. “Instead of thousands of libraries there’s one library. When doctors need a match for a patient they walk in through our front doors, use our desk, our computer and our algorithm to search and find the best match.”

It all sounds simple, but matching a patient to a donor is complicated.

While there are 13.5 million registered donors in the United States and 29 million worldwide, less than half of the 14,000 patients who need a bone marrow transplant won’t find a match. Only 30 percent of patients have a match in their family.

“When a patient needs a transplant it means chemotherapy has failed, radiation has failed, every other alternative treatment has failed,” Haskew said. “This is the last option. It’s the end of the road.”

“A lot of people think matches are made on blood type, but that is not the case at all. Matches are made on something called your tissue type. Those are the proteins that live on your cells and help identify you as you and everything else as other. That’s how your body knows to fight off infections and bacteria. In transplants we try to match those tissue types as close as possible that way the patients body does not reject the new cells.”

The bone marrow drive registered 70 donors on the first day.

Organizers in Phi Kappa Sigma and SNAP hope there will be a groundswell of support for the drive through Thursday. College-aged donors, they said, are ideal.

“It’s extremely important within our student community to participate,” Slagel said. “We are the healthiest people in America for bone marrow and blood drives. That’s why we want to target this community because we can help the most.”

The bone marrow drive will continue at 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. The drive is being held in the HUB-Robeson Center in Room 131. Online registration is also available at join.bethematch.org/PKSSNAP.