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Young adults learn it's not so hard to save a life

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24 2013 7:35 p.m. MDT

Look to youth

College campuses are becoming a favorite hunting ground for donors, because they're an age group that provides excellent life-saving bone marrow.

Adults 18-44 make the best bone marrow donors, so Be the Match actively recruits that demographic. There are already 30 clubs on campuses nationwide and the number is growing.

Phil Rutledge can rattle off statistics about illnesses that can be treated with bone marrow transplant. A Logan, Utah, native who is a senior in exercise science at Utah State University, Rutledge helps plan "Be the Match" drives on and off the Aggie campus.

The most shocking thing he's found as he's talked to fellow students, he said, is how many of them believe that they have to donate part of their actual bone — as in have a chunk cut out — to be a bone marrow donor. Fear of that drives some away, which frustrates him because it is not true.

"It's more like donating plasma. And who's afraid of that?" he said.

College campaigns like the USU one use social media and events to spread the word about need and about activities that will raise money to help cover the costs of testing. Because anyone 18-44 can register for free in conjunction with donor drives, a monumental amount of fundraising is needed nationally. They also try to educate people so they won't get on the registry if they don't intend to follow through. If it's sad to lack a match, it is perhaps worse to locate a match in the registry and then be unable to find the individual or learn he or she no longer wants to do it. The number of no-shows is "significant," experts said.

Rutledge became interested because he worked with a man whose son died from a cancer that bone marrow transplant might have cured. He started the Be the Match club at USU last year. Now members are working on a drive to register donors and raise money in October.

Nuts and bolts

Once listed, one can remain on the registry until age 61, Brajkovich said. They used to list a broader age range, but data and doctors agreed the best results came from that 18-44 age group. Since funding is scarce to cover the cost of listing people — it's close to $100 each to run the tests, do paperwork and more that's part of the process — they put their efforts there, where the potential good is greatest.

People who are 45 to 64 can still join the registry, but they have to pay the cost themselves and the odds are they won't be chosen if there's any other possible match. Brajkovich said older donors can have a greater impact by donating money to help cover the cost to test younger donors for would-be matches. "Why not sponsor someone who will be called?" she asked.

Besides the very important task of running the registry, Be the Match works with the nation's 150 transplant and donor centers, provides education and counseling, and will even walk a patient's family through what national account executive Nadya Dutchin calls "murky insurance waters."

Bone marrow transplant matching is quite different from organ transplant matches. Patients are not prioritized by some method such as how sick they are. It's by match. You do or you don't.

Dutchin has been charmed and impressed by the various ideas people bring to raising money and finding matches. Last year, students at James Madison University interested pilots in their cause. They teamed up for Flight Against Cancer. The price of admission to the fundraiser included food (donated), a T-shirt (discounted), games and free plane rides.

A child this year convinced her school, which wears uniforms, to let her hold a campaign for the cause. For a $5 donation, a child was able to wear jeans to school on a special day.

You can learn more about Be the Match and marrow donation online.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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