Fifty-six students signed up to save lives at Monday’s convocation.The convocation, although primarily a pep rally to celebrate the men’s and women’s basketball teams, also included an opportunity for students to add their names to a bone marrow registry for an organization called Be the Match.
Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor program, specializes in connecting patients with blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma with non-related donors. Be the Match is the most diverse bone marrow registry in the world, with over 10.8 million samples.
Angela Touseull, community engagement representative for Be The Match, represented the organization on Monday. She prompted students to add their names to the registry by introducing people who have been impacted by Be The Match and letting them share their stories.
Thomas Teach, a member of the foundation board of directors for Be The Match, as well as owner of Century Foam in Elkhart, is a strong advocate for bone marrow donation. Teach’s grandson, Ben, received a successful transplant in April 2014, but unfortunately passed away almost a year later. Teach’s family has now dedicated themselves to raise money and inform the public about the need for bone marrow donors.
Others impacted by bone marrow transplant included Debbie Richards, Chandler Elementary kindergarten teacher, Jen Kline and 9-year-old Vance.
The 9-year-old gathered much attention with his little-boy smile. Vance was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age 4. At 6 years old, he received a marrow transplant and has lived a healthy life since. He and his family plan to go visit his donor within the next few weeks to formally thank the college student that saved Vance’s life.
The convocation was spurred on when the Be The Match organization reached out to Todd Yoder, Goshen College’s major gift officer. From there, Yoder reached out to Stephanie Miller, GC’s women’s basketball coach, to get the event rolling.
Be The Match, Yoder and Miller worked together to come up with the idea of holding a pep rally to introduce GC’s basketball teams, as well as introduce an opportunity to serve to the Goshen College community.
“One of the goals here at Goshen is service and the concept of servant leadership; the ability to reach out to help others in the community,” Miller said. “We do a great job at Goshen…. But sometimes we don’t think about the individual opportunities. Donating blood, things of that nature don’t look like service.”
Students who were not at the convocation on Monday have another chance to register as a bone marrow donor at the men’s basketball game on Friday night.
The registering process is simple. Students only need to fill out forms, supplying contact information to the organization, as well as a cheek swab that identifies HLA (human leukocyte antigen) markers, which are used to match patients with donors.
After the convocation on Monday, 56 students added their names to the registry, surpassing Be The Match’s goal of 50 donors. With the opportunity of more names added to the list on Friday night, Miller has high hopes.
“I would just hope that we would find some people who really understood and would get behind it,” Miller said, “and maybe get 100 registries for the group.”
Bone marrow transplants are virtually painless for donors; through the peripheral blood stems cells method, the process is similar to giving blood, whereas through a donation of bone marrow, the procedure is more invasive, but most say it is worth the outcome.
“There’s a nervous stigma about [donating bone marrow],” said Miller. “People have a vision of it being very scary when it’s really - at least in this day and age - a simple process. And there are so many kids who struggle with childhood leukemia that with stem cells, and the understandings behind it, we can really give kids a shot at a full life.”
Megan Graber, a first-year student, encouraged other students to participate by putting their names on the registry.
“I feel like it’s important to do because—I don’t want to say civil duty, but to me, 2-7 days of being sore is nothing compared to having cancer,” Graber said. “If I were in that position, I would want people to do the same for me.”