It was a match that almost never happened.
Last year, 1,600 people joined the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match Registry at a drive organized by the Yale football and women’s ice hockey teams this past spring to help the cause of Mandi Schwartz ’11, who has been battling acute myeloid leukemia since December 2008.
Yale field hockey back Lexy Adams ’13, who almost decided not to attend the drive, ultimately went. And after she was identified as a bone marrow match for a patient in need of a stem cell transplant to survive, Adams decided to go through with a grueling procedure to procure and donate her healthy bone marrow cells to a person who will remain anonymous for at least a year, pending a successful donation.
The decision to sign up was not an easy one for her, as what Adams fears more than anything else — more than Coach Pam Stuper’s brutal off-season workouts, more than grueling treks up Science Hill for a draining Yale lab — is needles, she said.
Though being chosen as a match and having to face a needle was a long shot, Adams almost didn’t register for the drive at all.
“I initially didn’t even consider signing up for the drive. … I’ve never given blood — I usually avoid needles if at all possible,” Adams said. “My friends, Colin Dueck ’12 (a defender on the No. 1 Yale hockey team) and Mark Kaczor ’13 actually talked me into it, saying that surely I could withstand a few needles if it could mean saving a life. I guess you could say that this would be a positive example of peer pressure.”
In order to donate marrow, a match must receive five days’ worth of injections that push marrow cells into the blood stream to allow for easier removal. In the recently developed process used for Adams, blood is then drawn from one arm, spun in a machine that separates the cells necessary for donation and reintroduced to the body via the other arm.
The process was intimidating for the prospective biomedical engineering major.
“My immediate reaction to the initial phone call, e-mail and Facebook message I received was that of fear,” Adams said. “But I knew from the beginning that I would do it. … Certain times were scarier than others, but I also would remind myself that what I was going through was nothing compared to what the patient on the other side of the donation was going through. Imagining the patient as one of my family members was enough motivation.”
Adams’ decision did not end up being all that tough.
“I know Lexy would say that anyone who was a match wouldn’t turn it down, but regardless I think she was incredibly brave,” Adams’ classmate, teammate and best friend Mary Beth Barham ’13 said. “She handled it all as well as she could and it is a perfect reflection of her character.”
Adams’ decision to face her fears was no surprise to her teammates. As a freshman, Lexy was awarded the senior award by the field hockey Class of 2009 for positive contribution to the team’s philosophy and for an individual character that encourages the future direction and excellence of Yale field hockey.
Adams followed that up with a strong 2010 campaign that saw her gain more and more time in a solid Yale defensive backfield that yielded only 2.18 goals per game in 17 contests. Yet the sophomore has established herself in the minds of teammates just as much off the field as on it.
The field hockey team as a whole has demonstrated a spirit of supporting those in need. They have mobilized in support not only of Schwartz, but also others fighting battles — among them Adams’ teammate Ona McConnell ’13, who has been battling myotonic dystrophy for over a year. Adams and her teammates organized several fundraisers for McConnell’s cause in 2010.
“I do not personally know Mandi, but find her story inspirational,” Adams said. “Her struggle has brought so many other patients hope. I hope that her story continues to inspire people to register; it is a priceless gift, for both the donor and patient. I am so grateful for the opportunity. … I hope that everyone will sign up for the next drive. Just out of the drives at Yale so far, four patients have found matches, four family members given a second chance.”