Nursing students encourage community members to register as bone marrow donors

October 26, 2016

Daljit Kaur Sanders, a Penn State World Campus student, owes her life to a bone marrow transplant whose donor was located through the Be the Match national marrow donor registry. Penn State’s chapter of the Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP) hopes to help others like Sanders by sponsoring a donor registry drive Oct. 24–27 on the University Park and Behrend campuses.

Individuals between the ages of 18 and 44 who meet medical requirements will provide a swab of cheek cells and complete a brief registration form to join the marrow registry. The entire process takes about 10 minutes.

“A painless cheek swab and a few minutes of paperwork is all it takes to give hope to someone in need of a second chance at life,” said junior nursing student and SNAP member Betsy Slagel, who is spearheading the drive.

Sanders, a student in the Organizational Leadership bachelor of arts degree program who lives in Blaine, Wash., waited almost a year for that second chance. Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2014, she was told she would need a transplant to save her life.

“I was prepared for the worst because of my South Asian Indian ancestry,” Sanders said. “None of my family members were a match, so my best hope was a complete stranger who shared my ethnic background. Unfortunately, there was no match among the more than 27 million potential donors registered around the world.”

Patients like Sanders are the reason why donors of diverse ancestry are especially needed, said Slagel, “because they are most likely to match someone who shares their heritage.”

Just before Christmas that year, Sanders received the gift she had hoped for: a matching donor. On Feb. 4, 2015 — the day she refers to as “my new birthday” — she received the stem cell transplant that gave her a new lease on life.

“My matching donor gave me a lifetime of hope, but each year thousands of patients are unable to find their match,” she said. “I share my story and advocate for donor registry in hopes of giving someone the chance that I got.”

Marrow and stem cell transplants are a potential cure for more than 80 diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease and some autoimmune and genetic disorders. But more than 70 percent of patients will not have a donor match in their family. For these patients, a matching donor identified through Be the Matchmay be their only hope for a cure. 

“We want to accomplish two things with this drive: educate the public about what it means to be a marrow donor, and get people to join the registry,” Slagel said.

Swab kits will be distributed in 131 HUB on the University Park campus from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 24 and 25, and 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27. At Penn State Behrend, the event will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 26 in 113 Reed Union Building.

“The College of Nursing wants to make this a University-wide project by encouraging SNAP students at other campuses to hold their own bone marrow drives,” said Mary Ellen Yonushonis, senior lecturer in nursing and SNAP adviser at University Park.

Interested individuals can also sign up online.

For more information on becoming a bone marrow donor, visit the Be The Match® website.

  • Daljit Kaur Sanders

    Daljit Kaur Sanders is a Penn State World Campus student and leukemia survivor who received a life-saving stem cell transplant thanks to the Be the Match national bone marrow donor registry. The Student Nurses' Association of Pennsylvania at Penn State is holding a donor registry drive Oct. 24–27 to encourage people to register as potential donors.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated October 26, 2016