Stop, Swab and Save a Life

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A stop at Namaste Lounge, a completed health questionnaire and a swab of the cheek — everything that’s needed to register for the fourth annual bone marrow donor drive.

Registrants then have the opportunity to become potential matches for people with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma. Of the potential donors, 8 percent are given the opportunity to go through additional testing and potentially save the lives of those in need.

Four years ago, faculty member Sarah Woodside created this event in hopes of promoting bone marrow donation among the UCSC community. This year, the event is sponsored by Colleges Eight, Nine and Ten, Porter and Crown and is in correspondence with Delete Blood Cancer, the largest bone marrow donor center in the world.

“Getting people to know about the event and trying to dispel some of the myths about donating is really important this year,” said Programs Coordinator for Crown and one of the organizers of the event Serena Dionysus. “People think donating is really painful and it’s not.”

Dionysus said once people become more informed about the changes donations cause in others’ lives, they become more encouraged to donate.

“Unlike Chemo, this is actually a cure,” Dionysus said. “When someone receives someone else’s bone marrow, they come out of this process and they don’t have cancer anymore. If someone is uncomfortable with the surgery or the blood transfusion, thinking about how this could impact somebody’s life might change their mind.”

Donating bone marrow happens through one of two procedures. The first consists of the donor receiving injections of a drug which increases the number of blood stem cells over the course of five days. Blood is extracted from the donor, and the blood stem cells are separated and stored for future transplantation. The second method, performed in a hospital, requires the extraction of liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. The method of donation is decided by the bone marrow recipient’s doctor.

“75 percent of [bone marrow] is donated through the blood and everyone is given anesthetics, so chances are you’re going to be donating through the blood process,” said member of the planning committee and registered bone marrow donor Aracelli Aviles. “Before you register, you want to ask yourself if you are prepared to do both.”

Once the donor is registered, the next step is waiting to be matched to a patient in need. Additional testings, which could include blood samples or cheek swabs, are given to possible matches. With such a wide range of genetic makeups, the actual chances of being asked to donate are incredibly slim.

Dionysus said the drive successfully managed to register approximately 1,189 people in its three years on campus. Getting more people to register provides a greater chance in genetic diversity among donors, which is important considering the difficulties in finding matches. These difficulties are especially increased for people who have a unique genetic make-up.

Of the total people registered through UCSC’s drive, only five have donated. Programs Director of the Student Volunteer Center and registered bone marrow donor Kaitlyn Sandel said though the chances of being asked to donate are slim, it is still important to take time to register.

“The fact that so little people do get matched shows how important it is to have a large pool of donors,” Sandel said. “Having more people in the donor system increases the chances of people actually being matched. You never know if you’ll end up being a perfect match and save someone’s life.”


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