For years, research has been conducted to find a cure for cancer. Cancer is a life-threatening illness that affects millions of people in the United States. The National Cancer Institute estimated 1,685,210 new cancer cases in 2016. No definitive cure has yet to be announced, so it can be heartbreaking for a family to hear that their child has cancer.
However, there is still hope. People are combating blood cancers by turning toward bone marrow transplants. It only takes one bone marrow donor to save another life.
The Student Health & Wellness Center at Texas A&M University-Kingsville partnered with Gencure and “Be The Match” to register potential bone marrow donors. The bone marrow drive was held throughout campus on Feb. 20-22.
Gencure is aligned with “Be The Match” program, which aims to find donors who are compatible with patients who need specific transplant procedures. As opposed to blood transplants, bone marrow can only be transplanted if the donor is genetically compatible with the patient. “Be The Match” has registered thousands of donors who can later be outreached once they match them with a patient.
Jon Hudson, a Community Engagement Leader for Gencure, states that TAMUK is a perfect place to find registering donors. With bone marrow, you can only match with someone of the same ethnic and racial background.
“Right now, only 12 percent of our registry is Hispanic. It’s really low, so we hope to make progress today. One of the big reasons we like to come to TAMUK is because we are registering students from all over the world. This is crucial because that’s the best hope for some patients,” said Hudson.
Adriana Estrada, another Gencure representative, explains that anyone between the ages of 18 and 44 can donate. However, the best age to donate is from 18 to 24.
“Between 18 to 24, your cells regenerate the fastest, so college age students are very important to the registry.”
This is the second year the bone marrow drive is hosted at TAMUK with the assistance of the Student Health & Wellness Center. In 2016, an estimated 1,016 students registered on campus to become part of the bone marrow registry. “Be The Match” hopes to acquire at least 600 new donors this year.
There are many patients whose lives are changed by bone marrow transplants. Taylor Wilkins, who volunteered to help at the bone marrow drive, is a recipient of a bone marrow transplant. Wilkins was 11-years-old when he went through the procedure.
Wilkins had been suffering with the blood cancer Myelodysplastic Syndrome, and the only way for him to survive was to get a bone marrow transplant. Within a few months, he was matched with a donor. His donor was a young man who was attending law school at the time.
“I do encourage people to donate because it’s a blessing. You can help out a lot of people who have a blood cancer like leukemia or glaucoma. It’s just a great feeling when there’s hope that somebody is a match for their son or cousin. If there wasn’t a donor registry, I probably wouldn’t be here to tell my story,” Wilkins said.
TAMUK students agree that by donating bone marrow, you are saving lives.
Student Blake Perez, a mechanical engineering major, registered for the first time at the bone marrow drive. “Honestly, the thought of having the opportunity to save some else’s life is something that would really impact my own life,” Perez said.
Alexander Soliz, an electrical engineering major, said the process was very simple and that students should not be afraid to donate.
“Learn more. Be considerate if you want to help people out in the future. There’s a big waiting list of cancer patients searching for a bone marrow match,” Soliz said.
Isabel Mata, a physiology major, received the opportunity to save a baby’s life with her donation. Mata registered to be a bone marrow donor early in 2015. On November, she received a call saying she was a match for a little girl who hadn’t even turned 1 year old. On January 2016, Mata went through the bone marrow transplant procedure.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about donating bone marrow. They say it’s really scary and that it hurts, but it doesn’t. I did not have any worries. I knew that it was worth it and that there were minimal risks. The bigger pain would be losing the patient by the lack of a donation,” Mata said.
Mata explained she would do the process again “in a heartbeat.” She is happy knowing that the baby she helped is alive and well.
Hudson hopes that more people are able to register as bone marrow donors.
“There’s a little boy who just passed away on December who we were working with. He would always say that when you can’t see the good, make the good. I think we’re in the same situation here. We see that the registry needs donors, so it’s hard to see the good when people are dying. Let’s make the good and register as donors to see if we could at least be a match and give somebody life,” said Hudson.
Estrada hopes to make the bone marrow drive an annual event at TAMUK. Her hope is to reach more people and educate them on the procedure. She also wishes to find a matching donor for Hilari De Leon, a little girl who has yet to find a match with any one on the current registry.
TAMUK students can learn more about becoming potential bone marrow donors at BeTheMatch.org.