Swab a Cheek, Save a Life enters many into the national marrow registry

More than 3,100 students register and donate a stem cell sample during event

Courtesy+of+JJ+Wilson

Courtesy of JJ Wilson

By Sarah Yi, Collegian Correspondent

During the last week of October, the College of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts hosted the Swab a Cheek, Save a Life bone marrow registry drive in front of the Student Union. The organization, part of the group Gift of Life, seeks to get people to enter the national marrow registry.

Senior nursing major JJ Wilson said that through Swab a Cheek Save a Life, “we can find out if people match with someone with cancer, like leukemia, and if they match, their stem cell donation can save someone’s life.”

Wilson said the process takes about four minutes. “All you have to do is fill out a quick online form, then you swab the inside of your cheek and it goes into the kit and it gets sent out,” he said.

Junior nursing major Bridget Lumnah said that doing something as simple as taking a cell sample from the cheek can help match a patient with cancer in need of a blood transfusion with a viable donor, via the registry system.

“Through those cells, they can determine if you are a match with a kid who needs those cells with cancer and it will help boost their immunity and help get through their fight with cancer,” Lumnah said.

Wilson said that his roommate from freshman and sophomore year had leukemia. “He reached out to me and told me about the Gift of Life and I wanted to make this the biggest collegiate drive this year,” Wilson said. “So, I partnered with the College of Nursing and several other groups on campus to try to make it happen, and we did it.”

“As a nursing major, I think it is so crucial to be out in the world and advocate for kids that really need help in their healing process,” Lumnah said. “There’s so much you can do as nurses in the field to help kids that are going through cancer or other chronic illnesses.”

There is also a foundation that you can build outside of the hospital to help foster and heal the environment, according to Lumnah. “Allowing people that aren’t in the healthcare field to help out and help in their healing process is so important,” she said.

Lumnah heard about the organization through the nursing department and through the Student Nursing Association. “I had never heard of it before, I knew that people did the bone marrow registry, but I never knew actually how to sign up for it, so I think having it on campus gives it a great opportunity for everyone to get involved,” she said.

Wilson says that a lot of people think that the marrow registry is drilling into your bone. “That’s only ten percent of the procedures they request, 90 percent of the procedures are similar to giving blood. So, putting an IV in each arm and they filter out the stem cells and put the blood back in,” Wilson said.

Junior nursing major Emilia Pelis said that the registry is such an easy way a student can help out without a big commitment. “It’s so quick to do that I thought I might as well advocate for other people to do as well,” Pelis said.

He said that the goal was to beat Syracuse University in the number of people who swab their cheeks. “In their week-long drive, they swabbed 1,300 people and in our first two days of our drive, we swabbed over 1,300. So, our new goal is 3,000,” Wilson said.

Sophomore nursing major Emily Coulsey said that by the end of the week, over 3,100 people were swabbed. “Our major goal was to make the registry larger but also more diverse. Some individuals’ only hope is this registry, so swabbing as many different people as possible was very important to us,” Coulsey said.

Coulsey said she really enjoys participating in volunteer events that make a difference in others’ lives. “I also love gaining all of this information that will help me with my future career,” she said.

Lumnah hopes that students will learn about this organization, whether they participate in it or not. “Just starting off by educating people on a college campus is the perfect opportunity to get the word out,” she said.

Sarah Yi can be reached at [email protected]