Community Builders: Are you a Life-Saving Match?

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Join SHSU Students and Be The Match

Many people know about the SHSU Bearkats’ accomplishments in sports, but many may not know SHSU has been recognized as a leader in an effort to save lives.  For people with life-threatening blood cancers—like leukemia and lymphoma—or other diseases, a cure exists.  Be The Match connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant.

Be-the-Match-R_RGBBe The Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, a non-profit organization that matches patients with donors, educates healthcare professionals, and conducts research so more lives can be saved. People can contribute to the cure as a member of the Be The Match Registry, financial contributor, or volunteer.  According to Hope Guidry-Groves, Director of the National Marrow Donor Program, “SHSU student leaders and volunteers in the 2013-2014 school year alone resulted in SHSU registering over 1,200 potential donors, with 12 of those who voluntarily joined the Be The Match Registry answering the call and going forward to give that life-saving cure!  Nationally, the SHSU campus has set the bar for leadership, service, and community engagement.  The Bearkats have created a legacy for excellence for future members to flourish and for alumni who can continue this great effort in their communities.”

SHSU Health Services and Promotion faculty member Courtney Wallace works closely with Be The Match to recruit students for its bone marrow registry.  Wallace says, “We have many students who are potential matches, but once they undergo more testing, they are not always the best match.”  Although the chances of being selected as a match are small, the resulting gift of life is immense.  And, if selected, the donation process is simpler and easier than you might think, with donors only reporting soreness for a few days.  In addition to the recruitment of students to participate in the screenings, many health classes and students assist as volunteers the week of the recruitment. According to Susie Stone, Health Services and Promotion Faculty and Faculty Advisor for Eta Sigma Gamma National Honorary, “We could not carry out this process without the leadership demonstrated by our health students and the students that are members of Eta Sigma Gamma.  Be The Match serves as this group’s philanthropy each semester.

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Emily Ferens, junior Health Science major at SHSU

Postcards visited with Emily Ferens, a junior Health Science major at SHSU who plans a career in physical therapy.  We actually spoke with Emily the evening that she had been a donor.  Emily said, “I just thought ‘Why not? It’s just a swab in the cheek and the chances of me being a match are very slim.’” Three months later, Emily got a call that she indeed was a match for a patient with a type of leukemia.  “I wanted to think about it for a few days and talk with my family because I was definitely shocked that I got a call so soon.” Emily decided to proceed.  “I just thought if it was one of my family members or friends, I’d want the person who got the call to give them a chance to live. I learned throughout this process it is VERY common for patients not to match anyone in their family.  So someone could have six siblings and not match anyone of them.”

Emily went through a procedure called peripheral blood stem cell donation and she said it was “nothing” compared to what the recipient goes through.  She said that she had a series of injections the week of the procedure that made her “tired-feeling.”  Emily was told that a good description of the procedure itself was likened to dialysis.  “I sat in a chair for about 5 ½ hours with an IV and they withdrew my blood and then gave me back my red blood cells.”  Emily also noted that she was assigned mentors throughout the entire process.  “These were all people who had done this before and knew exactly what you were going through and how to answer your questions.   They were all just great people!”

After her experience, Emily said she wants to do whatever she can to help get the word out that this is a procedure that helps save lives, and a simple cheek swab is the first step.  Local residents and SHSU students can take that first simple step by joining the Be The Match Registry. On March 24, community residents can visit the Gazebo near the Katy & E. Don Walker Education Center at 1400 19th Street in Huntsville from 11:00 am until 5:30 pm so there will be easy access and parking for a registry location. Registry tables will also be set up on campus daily from 9:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 23-26 near the CHSS Turnaround in front of the Newton Gresham Library.

To learn more about the cure, visit BeTheMatch.org or call 1(800) MARROW-2.  To learn more about SHSU’s involvement with Be The Match, contact Cathi Gillette, Department of Health Services & Promotion’s Be The Match Intern, at (936) 294-1006 or gillette@shsu.edu.

Emily stated, “As funny as it sounds, I’m uncomfortable with doctors and have anxiety with them.  If I can do this – I think anyone can.”  Thanks Emily and other SHSU students for reminding us that “loving thy neighbor” can start with a simple swab of your cheek.

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