The nation’s largest Be The Match Foundation bone marrow drive, hosted for the past seven years by members of the Yale athletic community, has made strides toward becoming even larger.
On Wednesday, dozens of student-athletes from the Yale football, field hockey and women’s hockey teams, alongside other administrators and student-athletes, will host the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Registry Drive, which honors the life of Mandi Schwartz ’11, a former women’s ice hockey player who lost her life after a 27-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
This year, in addition to its usual location in Commons, the drive will also register potential donors on Old Campus. With an average of 765 new registrants — over half of Yale’s approximate class size — over the last three years, the Committee has decided to focus on engaging the freshmen, the majority of whom have not yet registered.
“We really want to target the freshmen because we have approximately 1,400 freshmen,” said Larry Ciotti, a member of the Yale football coaching staff who started the drive and has since organized it each year. “We think that 98 percent of them haven’t been tested. If we got them all, that’s 1,400. Last year, we targeted freshmen and got 412 freshmen. We thought that [because] most of them live on Old Campus, bringing that site to them will be more effective. It’s a big undertaking.”
Also for the first time in the drive’s history, Schwartz’s parents flew down from Saskatchewan, Canada, to show support for the event. They spoke to the Yale football team on Tuesday morning and the field hockey team later that afternoon.
Schwartz, originally a member of the class of 2010, competed for Yale for two seasons before her diagnosis in December of 2008. Her cancer went into remission in early 2010 but returned later that year, and although a handful of other matches were found from the early drives, there was no perfect match for Schwartz. She died in April 2011 at age 23.
The drive was initially started in an effort to find matches for Schwartz, but it has since continued as a means to save the lives of more patients needing bone marrow transplants.
“Back when Mandi was sick, it really added a sense of urgency to the drives,” Assistant Director of Sports Publicity Sam Rubin ’95 said. “It wasn’t an abstract concept, it was ‘We needed to find a match for Mandi’ … Unfortunately, we never could.”
Rubin, who worked with the women’s ice hockey program before, during and after Schwartz’s battle, speaks to the football team about Schwartz’s legacy each year, according to football player Sebastian Little ’17, a member of the Marrow Drive Committee.
A four-year volunteer with the drive, Little said he has been glad to see the drive evolve each year. Seven hundred and four people registered the first year, and 921 registered the following year — a record for the “Get in the Game. Save a Life.” campaign.
But not only does the University register a large number of donors — the school has a seven-year total of 5,299, according to Yale athletics’ tallies — it also has a high success rate. To date, 30 donors have successfully matched with a patient. The most recent donor was Jack Rushin ’17, a Yale football defensive end who took a few days off in October to undergo the procedure.
Though none of the volunteers or current Yale women’s hockey players knew Schwartz in person, every person interviewed touched on the importance of carrying on her legacy. In addition to the drive, the women’s hockey team hosts an annual White Out for Mandi game.
“We all wear her number 17 on our helmets to remind us of her incredible work ethic, selflessness and courageous battle she fought for so long,” outgoing hockey captain and forward Janelle Ferrara ’16 said. “It is hard not to be inspired after hearing Mandi’s story from our former teammates, coaches and people at Yale who knew her well. She embodied all of our core values as a program and we always try to play with the same love and passion Mandi brought onto the ice everyday.”
Ciotti praised the efforts of the committee members, who are representatives from the three teams who help organize the event.
On Wednesday, they will be joined by other members of their teams as well as a few men’s soccer players in convincing students on campus to register at the drive.
“These people understand how to give back,” Ciotti said. “They sacrifice their time, and as Yale student-athletes their time is really constricted … They understand that they’re giving back for humanity. What is more simple a thing than being on a registry for a marrow drive? That’s the motivation.”
The Mandi Schwartz Marrow Registry Drive will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Dwight Hall and Commons. Joining the registry requires participants, who must be between the ages of 18 and 44, to swab the insides of their cheek.