Lawrence alumna saves life with bone marrow

Lawrence is unique in that it places a heavy emphasis on service and making the world a better place. This is partly reflected in the university’s motto: ‘Light, More Light’ and even more so, in the existence of the Volunteer and Community Service Center (VCSC) and the emphasis placed on volunteering for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday this past Monday. Then there are all of the student organizations on campus that try to do their part in one way or another. However, none of this can compare to the act of saving a human life, which is what a Lawrence alumna recently did through the simple act of bleeding.

Every year thousands of people are diagnosed with disorders that require replacement of bone marrow, the tissue that produces blood cells from stem cells or cells that can do just about anything. Among these disorders are sickle cell anemia, numerous kinds of leukemia and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). The best treatment for these disorders, which cause everything from the inability to carry oxygen in the blood to the inability to fight off basic infections, is often to replace the bone marrow with that of a donor or bone marrow which was previously collected from the same patient at birth. Some patients are able to receive donations from relatives to treat their illness, but 70 percent of patients are unable to find a match within their family, so they turn to strangers.

Patients are matched with donors using a series of blood tests and the National Bone Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which is run through an organization called ‘Be The Match.’ There are two kinds of transplants that can help in these situations. The first, and most commonly thought of, is a surgical procedure by which a small portion of the donor’s bone marrow is removed directly from the bone and then inserted into the patient’s bloodstream where it moves to replaces the old marrow.

The second type of procedure is called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation. This is the procedure that Brenna Ori ’17 underwent after finding out that she was a match.

“To donate PBSC,” Ori explained, “I first had to take multiple injections daily for five days to build up my stem cell count in my blood. Then, I went and donated at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. The donation in the hospital is performed using apheresis, which took blood from one of my arms, separated the stem cells from the blood and then returned the blood into my other arm. The whole procedure took about six hours and I was able to leave the hospital the same day.”

While the procedure may seem complicated, Ori said that she knew what she was getting into. “This procedure seems like a lot, but I really went into this procedure with my eyes open. Be The Match does a really good job informing their donors about what to expect every step of the way,” she said.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of a donor being matched with a patient is quite small, about one in every 430, according to the Be The Match website. However, it is still important for people to register. “The more people in the registry the more likely it is that patients with cancers like leukemia can find a match and survive their cancer,” Ori said. “I was one of the lucky few who was able to donate. Maybe you could be too.”

Next Thursday, Jan. 25, there is going to be a blood drive held in the Warch Campus Center from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in order to provide life-saving blood to those who need it. As part of this blood drive, students, faculty, staff and members of the community will be able to register with Be The Match. Registration is easy and painless.

“My first step in all of this was a cheek swab for the registry,” Ori said. “I encourage everyone to join the registry. It feels awesome to have had the opportunity to directly impact someone’s life the way I was able to through this donation process.”

For those who want to get involved, they can go to and sign up for the event by entering code A014 or they can sign up by calling the Community Blood Center at +1-800-280-4102. The blood drive and registration event will be at Esch Hurvis Room in Warch Campus Center.