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Student nursing group aims to register 1,000 new bone marrow donors

The Student Nurses Association at The University of Toledo is aiming to register 1,000 potential bone marrow donors next week during a two-day blitz that could be the starting point for saving someone’s life.

The registration drive will take place Monday and Tuesday, April 15, and 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union and Nitschke Hall on Main Campus, and in the Collier Building on Health Science Campus. Signs will be posted. The event coincides with National Donate Life Month.

Bone marrow transplants are often the best — and in some cases, only — treatment for a range of diseases, including blood cancers like leukemia and genetic conditions such as sickle cell anemia.

“We have been touched by people who have had these diagnoses,” said Shannon Rafferty, vice president of the Student Nurses Association. “We wanted to spearhead an educational program and register donors. You have the potential to save someone’s life by doing this.”

The Student Nurses’ Association is partnering with DKMS, an international nonprofit based in Germany, to conduct the donor drive.

Volunteers from the University’s College of Nursing will explain to potential donors how the transplant process works, guide them through a registration form, and take three quick cheek swabs.

The swabs are then sealed up and sent back to DKMS to be cataloged, with the results ultimately being placed on the Be The Match Registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.

More than two-thirds of patients requiring a bone marrow transplant must look outside their immediate family to find a match, making international registries crucial to pairing willing donors to individuals in need of a transplant.

That was the case for a family friend of Patricia Sopko, an instructor in the College of Nursing and advisor of the University’s Student Nurses Association chapter.

The 16-year-old girl needed a bone marrow transplant after a blood cancer diagnosis. A match was found in the United Kingdom and an infusion was done in the States, but the cancer recently came back. She’s currently awaiting another match for a second bone marrow transplant.

Rafferty, a senior working toward a bachelor of science degree in nursing, said that personal connection was one reason the group decided to make a priority of registering new donors. They did their first drive last year during Relay for Life, collecting about 100 new donors.

Next week’s effort is one of the largest initiates they’ve undertaken.

“Volunteering is a huge thing our board believes in,” Rafferty said. “That’s one of the reasons we went into nursing — we have a passion to help people in our community. We’re trying to make a change.”

The group will again be sharing the story of Sopko’s friend to illustrate the need for donors and the potential impact they could make. While people on the registry can’t specify a wish to donate to a specific individual, the fact that so many are prepared to help is encouraging to those waiting on a life-saving donation.

“It made a huge difference for my friend’s daughter,” Sopko said. “It was like we were fighting for her life. She felt so much more hopeful seeing people were willing to do this.”

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