Six months after Mandi Schwartz ’11 lost her battle with cancer, Yale is rallying around another community member with the same disease.
The Joseph Slifka Center, the home of Jewish life on campus, hosted a bone marrow registry drive Monday on behalf of Rivka Weiser SPH ’08, who was diagnosed six weeks ago with acute myeloid leukemia — the same cancer that took the life of women’s hockey player Schwartz in April. At the drive, roughly 40 student volunteers collected cheek swabs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in an effort to add individuals to the national registry for bone marrow donors.
Noah Cheses, an associate rabbi at the Slifka center, said the Slifka community rallied around Weiser, who leads a prayer group at the center, once they learned that she needed to find a potentially life-saving bone marrow donor.
“This was really motived by a personal story,” Cheses said. “It was motivated by somebody in the community who we feel many people have a relationship with.”
Though Weiser’s doctors are currently seeking a bone marrow match for her in the national registry and have yet to find one, the results remain preliminary. To improve the odds, Slifka organized its drive through the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, a public registry that is frequently used by members of the Jewish community. Ethnic similarities between patients and donors greatly increase the chances of finding a match.
While Cheses said the likelihood of locating a donor from the Slifka registry is slim, he added that the drive would nonetheless benefit leukemia patients worldwide.
“It is a one-in-some-million chance that one of the people we register will be a match,” Cheses said. “It is more to raise awareness — to use her story to get people registered I think is an important educational opportunity.”
Lab work on the samples from the roughly 300 individuals who attended Slifka’s drive will cost approximately $16,000. Cheses said the center raised nearly all the funds needed to cover those expenses so that students would not have to pay the $54 processing fee for their cheek swabs. The center has raised about $10,000 and hopes to bring in the remaining money soon.
While Cheses said the drive at Slifka was a one-time event, he added that he hopes to partner with the Yale Athletic Department in April for the annual bone marrow drive held in Schwartz’s honor. Those efforts, which have taken place since 2009, have added more than 2,400 people to the national registry and have set national records for participation.
Josh Kalla ’13 and Ariella Kristal ’14, who volunteered at the drive, said both Weiser’s individual need and the ongoing need to register individuals for leukemia patients across the globe inspired them to participate in the event.
“Leukemia is terrible,” Kalla said. “When there is a member of the community who has leukemia, that makes it all the more real and all the more important to help out.”
Seth Lifland ’15, who got his cheek swabbed Monday evening, said he felt compelled to complete a 10-minute registration process that could save a life.
The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale opened in 1995.
CLARIFICATION: Oct. 18, 2011
An earlier version of this article state that the search for Rivka Weiser’s SPH ’08 has so far been unsuccessful. In fact, the search had only been in process for two weeks and the results remain preliminary.