BY KARIN LAVIE
Published February 16, 2014
“Sign up for the bone marrow registry, it only takes five minutes!” For a week I stood eagerly beside Be The Match’s table in Mason Hall promoting the organization’s bone marrow registry. As people walked by, some smiled, most ignored me and some shuddered at the misconceived notion that I was going to strap them down and give them a spinal tap. Most people don’t know what our bone marrow registry is or are stuck on false misinterpretations about it from watching too much “House” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” When students approach the table, I tell them that bone marrow transplants are potential lifesavers for people with leukemia, lymphoma or other blood-borne diseases, used often as a last resort. Registering is as simple as filling out a form and having a quick cheek swab, and the information is saved on a database until you are 61 years old. If they find that you are a match, which is pretty rare, there is a new donating procedure that is just as easy as giving blood, used far more frequently nowadays. Even people familiar with bone marrow will be surprised about how easy and painless new technology has made donating.
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I find that because of this new technology, registering for, and if possible, donating bone marrow, is the easiest way to help save someone’s life. However, in order to have someone sign up and help, they have to feel emotionally drawn to the cause. They have to hear someone’s story or feel the grave importance of signing up. To expand the registry, we rely on our most effective technique: education. Once people hear about the new procedure, they are likely to sign up, but getting them to listen to my spiel remains difficult. Recently, Michigan won a battle against Ohio State University by signing up more people for the registry. We collected 300 names and though this is an amazing victory, the number could be so much higher. Education and raising awareness comes with its own challenges of being active and assertive in public. During the drives, I feel like a saleswoman, reading the body language of the listener and knowing what to say to make them feel the importance of the cause. I thrive off the rush when someone signs up, knowing I’ve made a tangible difference. It feels even better when someone comes to the table to inform me that they’ve been called to be someone’s match.
Volunteering through education doesn’t feel like raising money, where the donor often doesn’t know exactly where their money is going or how it will be used. Of course, fundraising is an excellent way to make a difference — nothing would advance without a financial push — but talking with people from the community is a more direct effort to help those in need. Personally, I feel invested in a cause once I know more about it. Through education, I realize the potential to make a direct impact on someone else’s life. It is a different type of commitment than merely buying a cookie at a bake sale and forgetting about the cause 10 minutes later. Bone marrow registry members turn off their apathy and invest themselves in knowledge. Because they stop to listen, they become larger than a dollar in a cash box — they strengthen their empathetic fibers for the good of humanity. Every swab increases the chance of saving someone’s life and, because finding a match is so rare, there is a potential for a special, deep connection with the possible recipient.
Education doesn’t only come through standing at a table and being aggressive to passersby. Next semester we are planning on having a panel discussion and bringing speakers who have donated or received donations. We are also planning to possibly reach out to high school students so people can be aware from an earlier age. There are so many creative ways in which to spread awareness. You just have to be creative enough to get people to listen. Education is the gateway to developing passion and getting those philanthropic results.
Karin Lavie is an LSA senior.