OMAHA – "Her name is Ashley. She lives just outside of Chicago. Now, she's 12 years old."
UNMC student Tom Blount may have saved a little girl's life a year ago, when he donated bone marrow. Ashley was battling cancer. Her doctors decided she needed the transplant.
He recently shared his experience with UNO students, invited by the new UNO chapter of Be The Match On Campus.
"They had me come back and do different rounds of bloodwork, just to make sure I was the absolute, primo, perfect candidate to donate to this girl," Blount told students. "It turns out I was."The new group at UNO works with Be The Match to encourage students to do what Blount did: join the nonprofit organization's bone marrow registry.
The group's registry drive kicked off fall semester's 60 Minutes of Service Wednesdays.
Blount told students he signed up at a similar event, and initially didn't think anything of it.
"I swabbed my cheeks and I thought to myself, 'Yeah right. I'll never get called.' Something like 2% of people ever get a call and of those a lot don't match to the point where they donate. "
But then came the call last March.
Be The Match can only initially share the age and gender of a possible match. For Blount, it was an 11-year-old girl."They say 'There's someone out there that needs you,'" Blount said. "And from my own experience, getting that call really puts it in perspective."
There are two different ways to donate bone marrow: peripherally or directly.
The first method involves taking a drug for five days, which will increase the number of cells in the bloodstream that can be used for a transplant. The marrow is then collected from the patient's blood. The second method involves a small, usually outpatient, surgical procedure.
While peripheral donation is most common, Blount was asked to donate his marrow directly.
"Everyone wants to know what it's like for the actual donor. Is it painful? Would you do it again? What I tell people is, it's not a completely painless process. It kind of feels like you get kicked in the back."
Blount says the pain stopped just a few days after the procedure.
"Certainly when you take a step back and put it in the grand scheme of things, it was really a minimal amount of soreness, especially when I would think about that little 11-year-old girl somewhere in the world who I possibly had a chance to save her life."
For a year, patients and donors aren't allowed to make contact. In the meantime, Blount said Be The Match kept him updated on the girl's progress. Then one year later, they forwarded a long letter from the girl.
"It's been a huge life-changing experience for me," Blount said. "I've actually made the decision to go into pediatrics and work with sick kids myself - largely as a result of the whole experience."
The UNO chapter's founders, Alex Bauer and Matt Van Ormer, say stories like Blount's highlight the importance of the registry.
Both also hope to educate students on just how easy it is to sign up.
"It's like four cotton swabs," Bauer told students. "There's zero blood."
"People say it's like brushing your teeth with a Q-tip," Van Ormer said.
The paperwork takes about five minutes.
The drive was part of the Office of Civic & Social Responsibility's 60 Minutes of Service Wednesdays. From 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. every week, students are invited to listen to a representative from a nonprofit speak about their organization and then take part in a service project. Each event is held on the first floor of the Community Engagement Center. Lunch is provided.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.