Students bring bone marrow drive to campus

At the end of her sophomore year, Stacey Leondis ’07 thought her struggles with cancer were over.

Leondis had been diagnosed with and treated for bone cancer twice, once in high school and again in 2005. Though she went into remission following her second round of chemotherapy, she learned this summer that the treatment had left her with leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow. In an effort to do something for those in a similar position, Leondis joined forces with several student groups to bring a bone marrow drive to Yale’s campus that registered more than 150 students on Tuesday and continues today at the School of Medicine and behind the Yale Bookstore.

The Yale chapter of Colleges Against Cancer — a national organization promoting cancer awareness — and several other campus organizations are sponsoring the drive, which is intended to collect names and cheek cell samples to add to a national registry of potential marrow donors.

“Everyone’s faced with their own personal struggle in life,” said Leondis, who is currently on a leave of absence from Yale. “I hope to do something productive with [my struggle]. I hope to make things better for people who are in a similar situation themselves.”

Drive coordinator Jason Ptacek GRD ’06 said his sister Julie, who suffers from a blood cell disorder, is still seeking a bone marrow match. Her story, along with Leondis’, has been sent out in e-mails and printed on fliers around Yale’s campus to bring attention to the need for bone marrow matches. While neither Leondis nor Julie Ptacek have found a match — the chances of finding a suitable donor are rarely better than one in 100 — Jason Ptacek said he hopes the ongoing drive will give them and other patients a better chance at recovery.

“My sister has the flyer in her hospital room,” he said.

Stephanie Smith ’07, president of Yale’s Colleges Against Cancer chapter, said that while Tuesday’s response was better than she expected, it is so rare to find perfect blood marrow matches that any registered donor has the potential to be a patient’s only hope.

“The more awareness we can raise, the better,” Smith said. “[The drive] really means a lot to me personally, and I hope it does for others as well.”

Leondis said she thinks students have been less inclined to register for marrow donation than for other campus health drives — such as the Red Cross’ Harvard-Yale Blood Drive, which draws between 300 and 500 Yalies each year — because of misconceptions about what signing up entails and a lack of awareness about the drive.

While some students said they had not heard about this year’s bone marrow drive, others said they were confused about the registration process.

“It sounded to me like they take bone marrow from you, but I can’t imagine that that would be something you could just show up for,” Daniel Barron ’10 said. “I’ve heard that actually donating bone marrow is extremely painful … so I would have to think about it before I commit myself to something like that.”

But in reality, the drive is only the first step in the process, as all decisions about marrow extraction and donation — in the rare case that a potential match is found — are made later on.

“It was not difficult at all” said Monica Mark ’10, who signed up as a potential donor on Tuesday. “All we had to do was fill out a form, suck on four Q-tips, and that was it.”

Mark is a contributing reporter for the News.

There will be a candlelight vigil tonight on Old Campus in support of cancer survivors and cancer research legislation. The School of Medicine will be sponsoring another bone marrow drive this November.

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