Megaphones and large signs helped amplify the enthusiasm that members of the Yale Athletics community displayed in promoting the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive, which, in its seventh year, added hundreds more to a growing list of potential donors.
On Thursday, numerous Yale student-athletes and members of the Athletics Department hosted the drive outside Commons, encouraging participants to join the “Be The Match” bone marrow donor registry, a listing of marrow donors operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. By completing a simple cheek swab, participants added themselves to the registry — subsequent tests could then match them to patients in need depending on compatibility. Assistant head coach of the football team Larry Ciotti said the event was a successful one, drawing 761 new registrants to bring Yale’s seven-year total to 5,299.
“We’ve been fortunate this year because all of the volunteers from the different athletic teams came together and did a good job,” Ciotti said. “The bottom line is you’re saving lives and it’s an easy thing to do.”
This year, members of Yale’s football, field hockey, softball and women’s ice hockey teams hosted the drive, though other members of the community also participated independently by helping generate interest on campus and direct students and faculty to the Thursday event.
Ciotti added that Yale has drawn the most registrants for any school participating in the Be The Match drive for six of the past seven years.
The drives at Yale are affiliated with the “Get in the Game, Save a Life” program started in 1992 by Villanova University head football coach Andy Talley, a close friend of Ciotti’s. Under the program, more than 50 colleges — including Harvard, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania — across the nation participate in similar drives held every year during the spring.
This was the first year that Talley attended Yale’s drive, and he pointed to several strengths of the Yale campaign, such as promotional yard signs and flyers posted around campus, along with the direct involvement of several athletic teams.
“I’m extremely proud to be working with Yale, and I’m thankful that my best friend is the leader of that group,” Talley said. “Yale is the leading team in our program, and they have routinely registered more people for the drive than any other team.”
Other promotions for the event took place online. Sebastian Little ’17, a member of the football team, said some participating student-athletes posted videos to their social media accounts to boost awareness of the drive, following a model similar to that of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” videos that circulated online earlier this year to help raise funds for ALS research.
Though this year’s event saw an increase from last year’s 686 participants, Ciotti said organizers of the drive must continue to find new registrants each year. He said members of the drive’s committee choose to focus mainly on drawing newly matriculated students to register for the event.
“The target group are the 1,400 freshmen and the graduate students because there’s an influx of them every year,” Ciotti said. “Because we’ve done the drive now for seven years many people on the campus have been tested so it’s hard, although our goal is always to get 1,000.”
To date, Yale has had 29 donors successfully match with a patient in need. Most recently, Peter Ambiel ’15, a member of the soccer team, successfully donated in February through a procedure that was similar to drawing blood. Ambiel said he originally expected the process to require invasive surgery through a spinal tap.
Nearly 20,000 people a year suffering from leukemia or sickle cell disease, for example, are in need of a life-saving bone marrow transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Roughly 70 percent of patients in need of a transplant are unable to find a matching donor in their family and depend specifically on Be the Match, according to the foundation’s website.
“[Choosing to donate bone marrow] wasn’t much of a decision for me because the fact that I’ll save someone’s life made the decision for me,” Ambiel said. “It’s an experience that I can’t speak well enough about and anyone who has the opportunity to donate should do it without a doubt.”
In 2010 Yale set the donation record for the “Get in the Game, Save a Life” program, adding 921 new people to the registry.