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Ohio State student seeks out bone marrow donors in honor of friend

The president of one Ohio State group that focuses on getting students to donate bone marrow got involved after a friend found out she had cancer.

Libby Reichmuth, a fourth-year in psychology, is president of Be The Match on Campus at OSU. She became involved in the winter of 2011 after Meghan Woody, a fourth-year in biology at Boston College, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2010 and found out she needed a bone marrow transplant.

“Since I couldn’t be her transplant match, I figured I would sign up,” Reichmuth said. “I would do my part to get as many people aware of the opportunity to save someone’s life if they could.”

Be The Match has a registry of more than 10.5 million donors. The National Bone Marrow Donor Program, which operates Be The Match, helps to pair patients suffering from diseases including leukemia, lymphoma and different types of anemia and blood disorders with potential donor matches, said Marshall Brown, an account executive for Be The Match.

Be The Match on Campus at OSU aims to help find younger and more culturally diverse donors at OSU, he said.

“It’s very important to have diversity, since patients tend to match donors who share a similar heritage or background,” Brown said. Additionally, the best transplant outcomes come from stem cells or bone marrow provided by younger donors.

In Woody’s case, she needed a transplant because she relapsed after a chemotherapy treatment.

“At that point, the only option was a bone marrow transplant because the mortality rate without one is almost 100 percent,” Woody said.

Reichmuth was tested, and so were Woody’s brother and sister. None were a match.

Woody said she next looked at the registries for a match and found one at Be The Match.

“All I knew was that she lived in the U.S., she was 30 and didn’t have any major diseases and allergies,” Woody said. “That’s all they could tell me.”

Since her transplant, Woody has been in remission for more than two years.

In some cases, people receiving a donation transplant can develop the same allergies as the donor, Reichmuth said.

Be The Match on Campus at OSU hosts drives around campus to sign up new registrants and raise awareness for the cause. These drives help educate students on the donation process and organization members give out cheek swabs for the initial part of the matching process, she said. One of about 540 people registered with Be The Match will go on to become a successful match and donor, Reichmuth said.

Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60, and certain pre-existing diseases or health problems like AIDS, severe asthma and chronic back pain that require continuous treatment can rule out possible matches.

Be The Match helps find patients like Woody matches through two types of extraction methods used for donations. The more common method is through peripheral blood stem cells, Reichmuth said. She added these account for roughly 80 percent of transplants.

In a peripheral blood stem cell donation, a donor’s blood is removed through a needle and passed through a machine that separates out blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is then return to the donor’s body, according to the Be The Match website.

The second method is typically used for more severe diseases. It involves removing bone marrow from the donor’s pelvic bone with a needle and usually requires a recovery period.

People usually feel back to normal after three to five days, Brown said. The process has improved over years of medical and technological advancements.

“It’s not as bad as it once was, and knowing that you’re helping to save somebody’s life might be worth some discomfort or a little bit of pain,” Brown said.

Be The Match on Campus is working in conjunction with other student organizations to help with diversifying its registry.

“I’ve done quite a few drives with Indian or South Asian student groups,” Brown said. “If we get a chance to work with Asian student groups, Hispanic student groups or African-American student groups, we get to reach a broader spectrum of donors from different heritages, and that will help match other patients in need.”

Brown said 71 percent of the registry is made up of white donors with other groups making up the remaining 29 percent.

Once donors are entered in the registry, they remain there until they are 61 years old or they decide to opt out. This information, which is stored in a computer database, helps hospitals and transplant centers pinpoint potential matches, Reichmuth said. Reichmuth also said donations are the best chance a patient has for survival.

Woody said she’s glad she found Be The Match.

“I was just really lucky that they have this organization — that they have these lists and they have thousands of incredibly selfless people that are willing to do this great thing for someone they’ve never met,” Woody said.

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