STORY BY JENNY DEVRIES
Cody Cohen, a high school student from Fairfield, Iowa, was at the prime of his life. He was a senior football star with big plans to go to college. But before one of the last games of his season, Cohen took himself out, saying he felt ill.
After going to the doctor later that day, Cohen was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a cancer where immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells.
Cohen had gone from planning his college future to wondering if he was even going to have one.
Cohen turned to Be The Match, the United States’ national bone marrow registry of donors; because he had no matches in his family.
Even in a registry with over 25 million donors, Cohen’s doctors couldn’t find a match. But after spending 209 days in Intensive Care with no immune system, they found a match.
Ormarie Vazquez was a student in Puerto Rico who, on a whim, decided to sign up for Be The Match. She was a perfect match and donated her stem cells two years ago and saved Cohen’s life.
Cohen’s experience is one of many thanks to Be The Match. For Colleen Reardon, manager of donor services for the Iowa Marrow Donor Program, those stories are what keep her and her colleagues inspired.
“Listening to how people’s lives are being saved, that’s what motivates me everyday,” Reardon said.
Reardon and junior Elena Dietz decided to bring this motivation to Drake University’s campus, through Be The Match On Campus, a social movement. Dietz and Reardon brought Be The Match to Drake to provide students with the opportunity to help those in need of bone marrow or stem cells.
“I myself donated to a baby boy with severe combined autoimmune deficiencies,” Dietz said. “And I think Drake is big enough and has enough committed students to get a lot more people involved.”
On Friday, students gathered in Olmsted Breezeway to register for Be The Match’s first official bone marrow registry drive at Drake.
“College students are the perfect donors because they’re young and healthy and have the time to commit to donating,” Dietz said. “Its important that we have an organization that consistently holds drives so we can continue to get students on the registry.”
After their official establishment four weeks ago, the organization began with about 30 members. Last fall, around 80 students showed up for the drive, and this year, 105 students signed up to become donors.
Kari Bengston, a sophomore who signed up to be a donor Friday, simply did so because she wants to help people.
“It saves lives,” Bengston said. “Who am I to deny someone in need if I can help them?”
No matter their involvement, Dietz says the importance of college students’ roles in these drives cannot be overstated. Bone marrow transplants are the only known cure for blood cancers like Leukemia or Lymphoma or other autoimmune deficiencies.
About 70 percent of patients who need transplants cannot find a match within their family. Research suggests patients whose donors are younger do better. Over 90 percent of the time physicians choose donors under the age of 45.
“There is a cure, and it’s us,” Dietz said. “We can save lives, and it’s unbelievably simple.”
Students who are interested in learning more, can visit BeTheMatch.org.
To find out more about Be The Match as an organization at Drake, students can email Dietz or check The Iowa Marrow Donor Program’s Facebook page.
If students want to sign up to be a donor, there is an online drive that will go until December at join.bethematch.org/DerbyDays.
Be The Match will provide everything necessary to be registered, along with prepaid postage to send it back.