Gloria Loya ’05 has been involved with bone marrow drives since her uncle died of leukemia in 1998. But for the first time this weekend, Loya actually became a potential donor.
As part of an ongoing effort to save the lives of patients diagnosed with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases each year, a group of Yale students held a bone marrow drive at the Afro-American Cultural Center Tuesday afternoon. The drive, sponsored by Ortho Biotech Pharmaceuticals, was part of a weeklong series of drives held at various New Haven locations. Combined with the drive at the School of Medicine last Thursday, the Yale group solicited 40 potential donors.
The goal of the event was to attract donors — particularly those of minority or mixed-race descent — to be entered in the National Marrow Donor Program, or NMDP, registry. Once in the registry, donors can be matched with patients in need of a transplant. At the drives, eligible donors filled out applications and had blood tests.
A number of Yale cultural groups — such as the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MEChA, and the Students of Mixed Heritage and Culture — worked with the NMDP to orchestrate the event.
“We’re trying to help the registry by diversifying the people on it,” said Loya, a MEChA member.
When seeking a donor, a patient is most likely to find a successful match with someone who is of the same ethnic background, an NMDP brochure states. Currently, minorities are underrepresented in the pool of potential donors.
“It’s hard for mixed-race people to find a match, and I’m mixed, so that’s why I’m doing it,” Patricia Stringel ’03 said. “I feel a moral obligation.”
According to a Yale-New Haven Hospital press release, potential donors must be between 18 and 60 years old and in generally good health. Once on the registry, donors may remain there until the age of 61.
When there is a possible match with a patient, the registry contacts the potential donor for further tests. If the donor and patient turn out to match and the donor chooses to proceed, hospitals collect the bone marrow.
The collection of bone marrow is a surgical procedure in which a needle is used to remove marrow from the back of the donor’s pelvic bone. Most donors experience some pain for a period ranging from a few days to a few weeks — something Loya said she is willing to endure.
“The potential to save someone’s life far outweighs the minimal discomfort that comes along with donating,” Loya said.
There were several reasons for the event’s low turnout, Loya said. The organizers suffered from last-minute organizational difficulties and a lack of publicity.
“[Bone marrow drives] aren’t as big as blood drives because people don’t know exactly what they entail,” she said.
Loya said is thinking of starting a Yale cancer society to act as an umbrella organization that can plan future drives. Despite their current difficulties, organizers said they remain hopeful that more students will become involved and join the registry, as Sunny Kim ’06 has.
“I just think if you’re able to [join], you should,” Kim said.