Second Gift of Life drive on campus receives widespread student support

As of April 10, 450 members of the Colby community have had their cheeks swabbed to join the national bone marrow registry. Gift of Life, first brought to campus last year by Trevor Shorb ’14, is one of three non-profit, US national bone marrow registries looking to expand its presence on college campuses.

Grace Baldwin ’16, who first learned about the organization from her boss, was hired as one of eight campus representatives for Gift of Life’s trial year of expansion. “My boss…actually donated bone marrow and saved someone else’s life because he swabbed….I got really interested in it cause I had taken a bunch of immunology classes, so I ended up joining the registry through the drive that was run last year. Then, I got an email over the summer that said they were looking for interns to be campus reps, and I applied and got it,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin, who is a biology major on the pre-medical track, said Gift of Life appealed to her from an academic standpoint. “Working for a nonprofit that’s medically relevant is really cool. I also think it’s…a really great cause, and I think it really does make a difference. There’s a lot of things that people can spend their time doing, and I just genuinely felt that if I was going to put a lot of time and effort into something, this was something that I would be really passionate about….Increasing the size of the bone marrow registry is truly a matter of life or death. Whether it’s ten more people, 100 more people, or a 1000 more people [added to the registry], that could save someone’s life,” Baldwin said. Since only 30 percent of patients find a related donor, the majority of patients require transplants from unrelated donors and must search through the registry.

Though Shorb ran a drive last year, this is the first year that Gift of Life has had an organized, continued presence on Colby’s campus as well as at other schools. The organization’s new Campus Ambassadors Program aims to inform and involve college students and to gain access to a huge pool of potential donors. “What’s cool is that in the next year, they are looking to hire 80 to 100 more ambassadors. Having those eight interns [this year] was kind of a trial run to see how successful [the program] could be. I’ve been registering so many people at Colby, but so have all the other interns at their respective schools,” Baldwin said. This year, there were campus representatives at Syracuse University, the University of Florida, Boston College and Binghamton University, among others.

Baldwin also discussed her experience of bringing the organization to a campus like Colby’s. “One thing that is cool and unique about my experience is that I’m the only one at a small school, so all the other interns are at schools with 20,000 or more people….It’s still been really successful, and I’ve still been able to swab tons of people, which is cool, because going forward they’re definitely going to continue to hire interns at both big and small schools,” she said.

Baldwin also discussed the donation process: “The first step to becoming a bone marrow donor is getting your cheek swab, and that’s because it’s based on your DNA. Once you’re swabbed, you enter into the registry, and it doesn’t matter what foundation you sign up with, whether it’s Gift of Life or one of the other two registries, because they’re connected through the World Blood Bank. If a patient were to then enter the registry any time within your life and if that patient were to match your DNA, then you would be contacted via email or phone call.”

Though the chances of matching with a patient during your lifetime is only one percent, Baldwin actually matched with a patient three months ago, only shortly after getting involved with the organization. “The [statistic] kind of embodies how hard it is for people to find a match. It’s actually funny because I went to the foundation for a three day seminar…and while I was [there], I matched, which was really weird timing. I met the person that sent me the email…I was ready to do it,” she said.

“Basically, what happens is because it’s so hard to find a match, a lot of the time patients will start searching as soon as they’re diagnosed. [For example], as soon as they’re diagnosed with [Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia] or another type of leukemia or lymphoma, they’ll start searching the registry for a potential match, because in some cases it takes years to find someone, and in some cases they never find anyone. In my case, the patient wasn’t sure if he actually needed transplant yet, so my hope was that if he did need a transplant, I could be the one to do it. But, I think in the end he didn’t need it, which was really great for him,” Baldwin added.

When asked about the results and future of Gift of Life at the College, Baldwin discussed the student body’s receptiveness to the cause. “It’s really the enthusiasm and support of the student body as a whole that has enabled me to swab so many students….The first thing I did was run drives in the Spa, and we got over 50 people a day just from being there…from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.….People would just come up and ask about it, or some people had a personal connection,” she said.

“What’s cool is that I started getting contacted by clubs….I met with the Writers’ Center and…with Hillel. I met with SGA and got them to join. I also contacted a lot of sports teams and have been continuing to swab sports teams. So far, I’ve swabbed [women’s] basketball and men’s hockey, lacrosse, and baseball. I was at Relay for Life [last] Friday and got a whole bunch of  people to sign up there. We got 100 people just from being there for three hours,” she added.

Because she has swabbed so many current students, Baldwin says that in the future, her focus will be on convincing the incoming class to get swabbed. In addition, next year, Baldwin will serve as a mentor for some of the new interns. Baldwin hopes to find someone who will want to get involved and continue to run drives at Colby after she graduates. For more information on how to get involved, contact Baldwin at gbaldwin@colby.edu.

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