Five N.C. State University students who signed up for a bone marrow registry at the largest such drive in the university’s history last year learned that their samples went on to save the lives of five strangers from around the world in need of a transplant.
On Monday, four of those five students spoke about their experience, both to local media and as part of a documentary to be used by the university and the international non-profit DKMS to promote future bone marrow drives among students.
The drive in the spring of 2015 was organized by N.C. State’s Park Scholars program in conjuction with DKMS, which focuses on fighting blood cancer and other blood disorders. DKMS had reached out to the scholars program as a way to reach a younger generation of donors whose samples tend to be the most reliable.
“It was something N.C. State had never done before,” said Samuela Fernandes, a senior at NCSU studying human biology and anthropology and one of the Park Scholars who led the drive. “We had never had a campus-wide bone marrow donor registration drive.”
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More than 170,000 Americans are diagnosed with a form of blood cancer each year, according to DKMS, which has registered more than 800,000 potential donors and facilitated more than 2,500 life-saving transplants. The odds of finding a match are 400 to one; the N.C. State drive beat the spread, finding five matches out of 403 registered donors.
One of them was Jordan Cousins, now a senior studying computer science, who says donating blood is in his blood. With his mother and grandmother both long-time donors, the decision to donate was just a question of “why not” for Cousins.
“Worse-case scenario if they do the stereotypical needle in the hip sort of thing I’m in a little bit of discomfort for like two months. So what – that’s not that big of a deal,” Cousins said. “A little bit of discomfort possibly to save a live, so it wasn’t much of a decision.”
Cousins donated stem cells, which involved putting a needle in each arm: a larger one, double the size of a normal IV, to take blood out, and a normal IV to put blood back in. Once the blood is put through a centrifuge to separate the needed cells, the blood is cycled back into the donor’s body, which took Cousins between four and five hours but can take up to eight.
The process of donating was “easy” for Cousins, thanks to the doctors who made sure that he was keeping up with the supplements required in the weeks leading up to the donation. The hospital in Winston-Salem also paid for all of his travel expenses.
Fernandes said that the organizers of the drive were told not to lie to potential donors about the discomfort involved in donating.
“A lot of people react like ‘Wow, that’s going to hurt so bad,’ ‘Why would you ever do that?’ ‘I hate needles’,” Fernandes said. “You have to tell people the truth and say, ‘Yeah, it could hurt, and it’s not going to be comfortable, but you can save someone’s life.’”
Bob Murray, a donor recruitment team manager for DKMS, said that he does what he does because it’s a way for “everyday common people to become a hero.”
“If there’s a car on fire and someone went out there and pulled the mom out of the car, it’d be all over the news, you know. ‘Oh my goodness, look at these heroes.’” Murray said. “These folks did the same thing. It just wasn’t as dramatic as a burning car.”
Cousins downplayed the ‘hero’ designation, because he didn’t feel he put himself in any inconvenience.
“It was definitely a pretty good feeling to know that the gentleman that I donated to is actually doing OK and that it did what the doctors said it would do so he’s out and doing whatever he’s doing,” Cousins said.
Gavin Stone: 919-829-8937