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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Bone marrow drive comes to campus

While some Grinnell students relaxed during last year’s Fall Break, one student, Alenka Figa ’12, was about to save a 50- year-old woman’s life by donating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC).

Figa’s involvement intially began when she enlisted in the National Bone Marrow Registry at the Grinnell Bone Marrow Drive last spring. Figa is in charge of this year’s drive along with Bridget Zajac ’12, Alison Jameson-Lucy ’12, Melanie Echales ’12 and Gertrude Chong ’12.

The drive will take place on April 20 from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. in JRC 101, the same room registered in last year.

“I’m really glad I did it,” Figa said. “It’s a really good cause and I just think even if you’re sick, everyone should have the right to live more and fight for it.”
The group of students will be collecting money around campus to help offset the $100 blood-typing fee. Although typing is free for registered donors, the National Bone Marrow Registry (NBMR), a non-profit that registers and tracks willing bone marrow donors, helps foots the bill.

There are currently over eight million donors on the registry and there are more than 4,800 transplants yearly. PBSC and bone marrow donations help prolong those with leukemia and thousands of other life-threatening diseases.

Zajac also assisted in running the drive last year and is hoping to get an additional 150 individuals added to the registry, though she admits that many Grinnelleans are already on it.

“It’s always great when you’re tabling and you’re like, ‘Have you joined the registry yet?’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah!’” Zajac said.

At the drive,participants will swab their cheeks, to gather the DNA necessary to determine their bone marrow type. After they fill out the necessary paperwork—a 20 minute process—according to Zajac.

Once matched, there are two types of procedures a donor can use. The most common procedure, in which doctors extract liquid bone marrow-—instead of stem cells—from a donor’s pelvic bone. Patients sometimes need two to seven days to recover from the back pain inflicted during the donation. The procedure itself, however, is painless
Figa chose to implement an alternative procedure, where doctors give a shot of filgrastim to raise blood cell levels before putting the patient through aphaeresis, which separates bone marrow from red blood cells. Afterwards, the red blood cells return to the donor.

Matches are hard to find, so donors are often on the registry for much longer than Figa.
“It was crazy because I registered last spring at the drive so I wasn’t expecting to be called [in the] fall of this year,” Figa said. “Being called that soon is not normal….[but] I’d do it again”

On April 20, anyone aged 18 to 60 years can stop by JRC 101 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m to add their name to the registry.

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