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Students get swabbed to save lives

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Yesterday, hundreds joined the more than 7,000 Ohio University students, faculty and staff already signed up to be potential bone marrow donors at Hillel’s “Got Swabbed” bone marrow drive. 

“It was a big success,” said Danielle Leshaw, rabbi and director of Hillel, the Jewish life organization on campus which held its first bone marrow drive in 2009. 

Since 2009, about 25 OU students have been matched with a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. For most patients with life-threatening blood disorders like leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia, a bone marrow transplant is the best treatment option, according to Be The Match.

For OU sophomore Haden DeRoberts, it saved his life. 

Diagnosed with leukemia in the seventh week of his freshman year in 2011, Deroberts went through five rounds of chemotherapy and a failed cord blood transplant before he was matched with a bone marrow donor. 

“Matches are really hard to find … I was completely elated [when I was matched with a donor,]” said Deroberts.

If none of a patient’s family members are a match—which is the case for 70 percent of patients—doctors turn to the national registry in search of a bone marrow match. 

Every year about 20,000 people are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses that a bone marrow transplant could cure—14,000 of whom need to be matched with an unknown donor, according to the U.S. Health Department. In 2012, nearly 6,000 patients received transplants from non-family members—about 8,000 short.

DeRoberts was one of those 6,000. In May of 2012, he received the bone marrow transplant that “gave me a second chance at life,” he said in a YouTube video that Hillel created to promote yesterday’s “Got Swabbed” drive.

Ty Black, who watched the video in one of his classes, said it “inspired me to come out and get swabbed.”

“That video helped tremendously. It brought more awareness about the importance of swabbing,” said Leshaw. In the two weeks since it was posted, the video has garnered more than 12,000 views.

It is especially important to have young people swabbed and entered into the registry, according to Gift of Life, the bone marrow foundation that Hillel partners with. In 2011, about 46 percent of donors were between the ages of 18 and 25. About 33 percent were between 26 and 35 years old. 

One of those young people was Lauren Kahn, now an OU alumna, who said that she “stay[s] away from anything involving needles.” In her sophomore year in 2009, Kahn’s friend “convinced” her to get swabbed. Two years later, she received an email saying that she was a match for a two-year-old girl with leukemia in need of a bone marrow transplant. 

“I’m not this gung-ho person who was willing to give my marrow,” she said. “I was scared and nervous.” But she was “more thrilled than nervous” by the opportunity to save a child’s life.

In order to donate her marrow as soon as possible, Kahn took her final exams early and spent the last days of her college career en route to a Pittsburgh hospital for the surgery.

“The second I woke up [from the surgery,] you’re in that foggy haze, but I knew exactly what I did, and I was very happy about it,” she said. “I was very nervous … but in the end, I was thinking about this little girl. I wasn’t going to back out at any point.” 

Though donors and transplant recipients usually do not meet one another, the doctors did tell Kahn that the girl was alive and well.

“We have no idea who we’re saving. It’s entirely anonymous,” said Leshaw, “but we recognize the value in human life.”

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