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Rutgers to host two bone marrow drives on Sept. 16

Rutgers students can make a lasting impact on the lives of thousands, simply by swabbing their mouths. 

All 50 states will commence in the first World Marrow Donor Day (WMDD) on September 19 in a campaign against cancer, according to a press release from Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation.

Ambassadors from the Gift of Life’s Campus Ambassador Program will help to swab possible donors’ mouths in each state, thanks to the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA).

Gift of Life is a national bone marrow registry that is a part of the World Marrow Donor Association. The organization has helped facilitate more than 2,900 transplants for cancer patients, according to the press release. The mission for WMDD is to expand the registries and to make a statement that anyone, anywhere, could be a donor. 

Bone marrow transplants are a form of immune therapy used when traditional chemotherapy may not help a patient, said Vimal Patel, resident member of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

Since one marrow is full of stem cells, implanting from a healthy person into a cancer-ridden person allows the patient’s body to achieve healthy blood cells. The process involves implanting a healthy immune system into someone whose system has broken down, Patel said.

He said patients who are in need of bone marrow usually have used every method possible and are on their last resort. Immune therapy is intense, but also lifesaving especially for those who are high-risk or have had many relapses.

There will be two drives at Rutgers, on September 16. The first drive is at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus and the second at Busch Dining Hall on Busch campus. The events are organized with Alpha Epsilon Pi, the national fraternity partner of Gift of Life.

There are two ambassadors at Rutgers who will help swab possible donors' mouths, Rebecca Meiner, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and Sheyenne Buchalski, a Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy junior. 

Rutgers is one of the few universities with two Ambassadors, said Katie McConnell, a public relations intern for Gift of Life from Buzz Agency. Both students helped Gift of Life run bone marrow drives before and thus both were chosen to represent the University.

“They also met the requirements which are to be full time students at a four-year university, have a cumulative GPA above 3, can commit 10 hours per week towards working with us and are a part of at least one on-campus organization,” McConnell said.

She further explained that there was a three-step admissions process including an online application, a 30-second online video on why they are eligible for the position and a Skype interview with a Gift of Life employee.

Meiner said she is helping out with the two drives at Rutgers because she believes it is important to spread the message that anyone can be a donor. College students are a great and versatile pool of potential donors, she said.

Having a vast population of people increases the chances of patients finding donors, Patel said. Currently only about 20 percent find a donor due to the presence of human leukocyte antigen or HLA. This protein is specific to everyone persons' cells and the chance of being a match is 25 percent.

Every person of every ethnicity needs to be represented, Meiner said.

“This is why WMDD will be an important campaign and an effort to make sure that we can reach a world where no one will be turned down and told that they cannot be healed,” she said.

Buchalski said she is helping a drive on the September 19 at the East Brunswick Community Park. She became involved in Gift of Life when her aunt was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and was in need of a marrow donor. That is when her family created Smiles4Shira, an organization that aims to increase the number of donors in the national bone marrow registry that is sponsored by Gift of Life.

“Actually being a part of it is a truly new, different and exciting experience. The need to expand the registry is huge in both numbers and diversity,” Buchalski said. “You cannot truly experience the feeling of satisfaction, self-fulfillment and selflessness all at the same time without being a part of this huge movement.”

Buchalski said any student can help in the fight against cancer.

“There is a lot of good in the world and I’ve always wanted to be on the giving end rather than on the receiving end. I think that students should take the chance to make a direct impact on someone else’s life,” Meiner said.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said one bone marrow drive is to occur on Sept. 19.

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