For two days in the Frist Campus Center, students ran a bone marrow match swabbing drive at a central table. According to a Facebook post by Erik Massenzio ’17, the drive “broke the record for university sign-ups in a single day.”
Samantha Ip ’18, who helped organize the event, said that the drive registered 119 the first day and 167 the second. Previously, the record for a single day at a university was 97, according to Be The Match representative Leebe Nuñez, Massenzio said.
Kyle Lang ’19, who volunteered to help register people for the drive, said that he found out about the event through Massenzio at an Aquinas dinner.
“It’s a great cause obviously, and telling his own story about how his mom was saved by this registry really inspired me to contribute even that small part,” Lang said.
Massenzio explained that, in second grade, his mom was diagnosed with leukemia and that she eventually needed a stem cell transplant. He explained that unless the stem cells match perfectly, blood cancer patients could have autoimmune reactions to the transplant and die.
To find a match, the chances are about one in eight million people, Massenzio wrote in an email soliciting donors for the registry drive. His mom found a match through this registry with someone who signed up in college, so Massenzio believes this cause is incredibly important.
Once a participant’s cheeks are swabbed, the participant is added to the Be The Match Stem Cell Registry. It takes roughly 10 minutes to swab a cheek with a Q-tip and go through the registration process. According to the Facebook event, the DNA sample “will be sent to a lab for sequencing the genes relevant to autoimmune matching (MHC proteins).”
If a participant matches, their donation of stem cells for a blood disease patient could be a life-saving transplant, according to the Facebook event. Donation of stem cells is done through one of two procedures.
Only one in 430 donors matches with a patient, however, so Massenzio contends it is critical for as many people to participate as possible. According to an email promoting the event, “The more people join the registry, the more likely patients with these life-threatening diseases are to successfully match with a donor.”
Massenzio said that Nuñez, the coordinator for Be The Match, was really impressed with how willing University students were to be a part of the registration drive.
“Usually when she goes to schools, she said [the students] don’t really know what they’re doing but with Princeton everyone was really willing, ‘Oh yeah, sign me up!’” he said. “It’s really a testament to our class.”
“They worked so hard, and let me tell you, it showed,” Nuñez said. She explained that it’s often hard to find groups of students on campus who are passionate enough to administer the event, but this event was very successful because of Ip and Massenzio’s hard work. She said that her organization works to administer these registration drives all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Ip said that she joined in the organizing effort with Massenzio when he reached out to her before Intersession. Both Ip and Massenzio are pre-med students as well as members of Quadrangle Club, which helped them make this connection.
“I didn’t realize how important it was until I looked at the statistic,” Ip said. “People with leukemia need stem cell transplants so they can get healthy stem cells to produce healthy blood cells for them. Only 30 percent of people are able to match with someone in their family which means that 70 percent of people have to find a match on the registry.”
During intercession, Ip said the two worked hard to create a successful and clear marketing effort so that students would know what they were signing up for when they came to get their cheeks swabbed in Frist.
“The marketing effort for us was really important and we wanted as many people as possible to sign up, but we wanted to know that people know what they’re signing up for,” Ip said. “It’s really sad if a patient finds a match and the donor doesn’t want to go forward with it. That’s something that was really important to us and students came up to the booth and they really knew what they were signing up for.”
Nuñez explained that, if you are selected as a potential match, there is a series of steps the match must go through in order to actually donate. First, the organization calls the match and goes through a basic series of questions to check a donor’s health. Then, the donor has a physical and a blood test to retest the match.
Once matched, there are two ways to donate, Nuñez explained. The first is through a machine that draws blood from your arm and takes healthy stem cells before sending the blood back into the donor. The process takes about 6-8 hours and comprises about 70 percent of donations, Nuñez said. The other 30 percent of donations are done through extraction of bone marrow. In a roughly 45-minute procedure, doctors draw 3-4 percent of the liquid marrow in the pelvic bones with needles. The body regenerates the marrow within weeks.
Massenzio said that although he’s a senior, he said he thinks they might do another registration drive in the spring.
“We got about 300 total, but that’s like nothing compared to the University as a whole,” he said.
“Everyone can get excited about it,” he added. “It’s not controversial; you just sign up and you help people.”
“Doctors have tools, and medicine, and knowledge, and they have everything ready to do [a transplant], but if they don’t have that person then they can’t do it, and that’s the important thing to remember,” Nuñez said.
Nuñez agreed that she hopes to have another drive in the future.
“We’re hoping to be back next year,” she said. “Next year, we will do a competition between the eating clubs or any club that wants to compete and we’ll do a prize.”
“[The drive] was so great — we were sweating there were so many people at the table,” Nuñez said. “That’s never happened to me ever.”
The registration drive took place Feb. 27 and 28 and ran from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 to 10:30 p.m. both days.