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Khleif ’15: Why not ‘Be the Match’?

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, April 14, 2015

While Tinder seems to be occupying the minds of students these days, as spring fever begins to take hold, there are other ways to get matched. Today, April 14, our football team will host Brown’s 6th annual Be the Match bone marrow testing drive. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., members of the team will be standing outside of Sayles Hall recruiting students and faculty members to sign up.

I grew up in a household that educated me in the importance of personal sacrifice for the benefit of others. My father has dedicated his life to cancer research and health care reform, and though he wasn’t always home in time for dinner, I would not have it any other way. He inspired me to pursue research in high school and intern at the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health during my summers. I spent those humid Washington, D.C. days happily working in labs focusing on the effects of genetics on leukemia and the effects of bone marrow transplants on patients.

Walking across the Main Green one day my sophomore year at Brown, I remember seeing several of our football players standing outside Sayles. They were advocating for a cause I had spent so much time researching under a microscope but never enough time inquiring what else I could do outside of the lab. After learning what being on the registry meant, I signed up for Be the Match.

I remember urging my friends to do the same. But instead of being met with enthusiastic replies, not one person I spoke to registered with me. I was told it was too much of a hassle and that it was not worth the potential inconvenience of becoming a donor. Matching, of course, is just the start of the marrow-donation process. This shocked me. The potential inconvenience of anything more than a social media match was not worth literally saving a person’s life?

I do not know if my friends’ hesitation resulted from misconceptions, lack of information or fear, but it is important that our community learns about this drive — if for no other reason than just to be aware of the potential impact we can have for others. One of us could be the reason that someone — a young child, a parent or a friend — is able to stay alive.

People need healthy marrow and blood cells in order to live. When an individual has a disease, such as leukemia, that prevents the healthy formation and function of marrow and cells,  a blood or marrow transplant is often the best, and only, cure.

As detailed by Be the Match, a transplant “takes a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells and puts them into the patient’s bloodstream, where they begin to grow and make healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.” On transplant day, patients receive donated cells in a process similar to that of receiving medicine through an IV.

Be the Match’s website details how a bone transplant works, explains the step-by-step processes are from signing up to donating and highlights the importance of donating by sharing stories of those whose lives have been saved by donation — which, more often than not, can serve as the deciding factor to sign up.

It takes as little as 45 minutes to sign up, receive a cheek swab and fill out a health history form. Upon completion, and assuming adequate health status for potential donation, a person will be added to the national Be the Match registry. Addition to the registry means there is a 1 in 540, or 0.19 percent chance, of becoming a match for someone in need of a transplant.

It is important to note that there are two different kind of donations: bone marrow donations and peripheral blood stem cell, or PBSC, donations. Despite common misconceptions, most donations are done through PBSC automated blood donations — no surgery required. It is performed in an outpatient clinic using, something that most of my friends did not know until I had mentioned it. If the case happens to be one that needs a bone marrow donation, the donor will be put under general anesthesia, and liquid marrow will be withdrawn from the back of the pelvic bone.

Individuals may be hesitant about the aftereffects of donating. While marrow donors take more time to heal than PBSC donors, PBSC and marrow donors should expect to return to their normal daily activities between one to seven days. Some marrow donors report the aftereffect feelings being similar to a strained muscle in the back, achy hip bones or akin to that of those of falling on their butts. These aches could last a couple of weeks.

In the last five years, over 1,200 Brown students, staff members and faculty members have signed up. One of our students, Matt Shannon ’14, was even selected as a match. In 2012, Shannon donated bone marrow to a leukemia patient and saved the man’s life. We can all learn from Shannon and these other 1,200-plus community members.

Yes, taking 45 minutes to sign up may be inconvenient, and the additional steps may be as well. But if our community members are able to take the time today, at least to learn more about it, what is the inconvenience compared to a lifetime given to those in need?

Zein Khleif ’15 is concentrating in political psychology. She can be reached at zein_khleif@brown.edu

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