It was a long shot, but Kaylee Boehme swabbed the inside of her cheek anyway, collecting her DNA for Be the Match, the national bone-marrow donation registry. Just one of every 430 volunteers is selected to donate.
“I really hope it’s me,” said Boehme, a Penn State Behrend third-year nursing student.
The odds are even longer for a person in need of a marrow or stem-cell transplant. Though the procedure can cure more than eighty genetic diseases, including leukemia, 70 percent of all patients in need of a transplant do not have a genetic match in their family. Half never get a transplant.
To raise awareness of the issue, Penn State Behrend’s nursing students held a bone-marrow donor registry drive over four days last fall. The average community event adds twenty-five volunteers to the donor database, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. The Penn State Behrend event added 164.
College campuses are an ideal site for registry drives, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, which maintains the Be the Match registry. Donors’ blood type doesn’t matter, but their age does: Most transplant doctors prefer to work with donors between the ages of 18 and 44.
To register, volunteers answer a few questions and then use a cheek swab to collect a cell sample. For most, it takes no longer than voting.
“It’s a simple process, but it’s super important,” said Samantha Stauffer, a senior who is pursuing her bachelor of science in nursing, or B.S.N., degree at Behrend. (The college also offers an R.N. to B.S.N. for associate degree-prepared nurses.) “The more people we can sign up, the higher the chances are that we’ll be able to help somebody.”
Having student nurses participate in service-learning opportunities like Be the Match, Relay for Life and a March of Dimes walk fosters commitment to public service, says Kimberly Streiff, campus coordinator of Behrend’s nursing program. “The students look forward to these events every year,” she said. “They offer interesting paths for personal and professional exploration, plus give them occasions to practice their skills in communication, collaboration and leadership.”