Empathy on the Hill: Placer High students recruited for life-saving marrow donations

By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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Quantifying the need

70 Percent of patients needing a marrow transplant who don’t have a fully matched donor in their family

14,000 Patients each year whose only hope for a cure is a transplant from someone outside their family

Source: Be The Match


Bone marrow isn’t a normal topic of conversation around the dining room table for many families.

But Placer High School senior Nicole Swanson said she will be having that conversation soon with her parents after signing on Thursday to be a potential donor with the nationwide Be The Match registry.

The registry recruits an average of 30,000 new potential donors each month in the U.S. in hopes of expanding the pool of people who can be linked for marrow transplants with people suffering from life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia or other diseases like sickle cell anemia.

Be The Match donor relations specialist Christopher Osorno was at Thursday’s blood drive at Placer High to tap into a vein of empathy among students under 18 while simultaneously signing up 18-year-olds.

By late morning, Swanson and four others had signed on, with several other students showing enough interest to take paperwork with them.

Swanson said her purpose is a simple one as she joins millions of others in the 18-to-44-year-old range who have registered with Be The Match.

“Just to help people,” Swanson said.

As Osorno worked the room for donors in his low-key, friendly way, he said that he was impressed with student interest in taking part – even when their age precluded it. Students who are 16 and 17 years old can donate blood with parental consent and about 250 had committed to do so over the two-day donation blitz. But they have to wait until they’re 18 to be a potential bone-marrow donor.

The bone-marrow registry presence was something new. The program visits college campuses but the Placer visit was a trial run, Osorno said.

“We’re trying to plant the seeds,” Osorno said. “When we go onto college campuses, we find that students there often don’t know about Be The Match.”

After filling out paperwork, potential donors have a cheek swabbed for a DNA sample. The DNA information is categorized and catalogued for future use with matches who have become ill. An ill patient’s blood will not reject a matching marrow transplant, providing new disease-fighting mechanisms for the body.

Thomas Schroeder, a Placer teacher who has organized blood drives at the school since 1991, said this week’s two-day event gives Placer just more than 1,000 gallons of plasma donations since he started. That’s 8,000 units of life-giving blood.

“The success of the blood drives is really because we have a culture of giving blood that has been passed down from class to class,” he said.

Schroeder said the marrow donation program presence is a good match for the school and could start a whole new tradition of giving.

“Students are already in the mindset so it’s something we can introduce them to,” he said.