Jessica Kaltz and Samira Monavvari: The Drive to Save a Life

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BY HALEY GOLDBERG
Daily News Editor
Published March 20, 2012

Call it a coincidence, a twist of fate or a viral chance of luck.

LSA junior Jessica Kaltz, a student volunteer with the DKMS Bone Marrow Donor Center, had spent months organizing a bone marrow registry event to occur on campus in February. So when LSA senior Samira Monavvari began to publicize the need for a bone marrow registry event to help find a donor for her friend, LSA senior Daniel Lee, the two students combined forces. Together they created a Facebook event that took the prospective attendance count from 200 to 8,000 people and successfully registered more than 819 people at the Michigan Union as bone marrow donors.

Monavvari’s friend, Lee, was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition stopping his bone marrow from forming new blood cells, in December. Searching for a means to help find a bone marrow donor he needs to survive, Monavvari described how she discovered Kaltz’s event.

“When we found out (about Kaltz’s event), it was a really lucky coincidence that they were having it at the same time,” Monavvari said. “So we just decided to run with it and try and get all of Dan’s friends to sign up on it.”

Kaltz decided to plan the drive on campus after learning how easy it is to register to donate, a process which takes about five minutes and requires an individual to use four cotton swabs on the inside of his or her mouth to gather a sample. After discovering Monavvari’s push for a drive, she knew the event she had been planning for three months would serve as the perfect forum to help Lee. Kaltz added Monavvari as a friend on Facebook and sent her a message.

“I said, ‘Hey, let’s make this go as fast as possible’ and then we tried to sync our flyers too … and we were trying to make it so that it was one single drive,” Kaltz said. “Right away, I wanted to be able to do whatever I could to help.”

Kaltz had previously promoted the event on campus with flyers, her Sigma Kappa sorority sisters and a Facebook event page. Once Monavvari created a Facebook event connecting Lee’s need for a bone marrow transplant with Kaltz’s scheduled drive, the event went viral.

“It was really hard to get the word out there,” Kaltz said. “If it wasn’t for (Monavarri), we wouldn’t have had as many people at the drive. It was great seeing how many people care about (Lee).”

Monavvari said it was Lee who drew people to the drive.

“It really just blew up out of nowhere. I only have a thousand (Facebook) friends so I invited all of them … and then all of the people I invited invited people and it just blew up. It’s a great way to get the word out,” Monavvari said.

Lee said he was moved by Monavvari’s initiative to create the Facebook event in his honor and advertise the bone marrow registry on campus.

“I’m sure her doing that got a lot of other people involved,” Lee said. “It takes a lot for someone to just do that out the blue and take up their time to do that for someone else without having any motives or reason to do it … but just caring for someone else.”

To Monavvari, Kaltz and the 819 students who participated in the bone marrow drive or raised awareness through the Facebook event, Lee expressed his gratitude and appreciation.

“It kind of made me speechless that that many people came together and got registered,” Lee said. “It’s hard to describe.”

Lee added he was contacted with a potential donor about two weeks ago, and he will be receiving a bone marrow transplant in mid-April — providing him with the cure to his illness. It’s unlikely and unknown if the donor registered through the drive at the Michigan Union, since millions of people are on the bone marrow donor registry and chances of finding a match are very rare.

But for Lee, he said knowing students came together in his honor to join the registry raised his morale and was a key way to increase awareness about the importance of registering to donate bone marrow.

“Well for me personally, they weren’t probably going to find me a donor,” Lee said. “But I know just getting people registered helps raise a lot of awareness and it can help someone in the future, so I think these kinds of things are important for just getting aware and helping other people out in these kinds of situations.”

Kaltz and Monavvari also stressed that if a registered bone marrow donor has a match, the actual donation of bone marrow is not a painful process. Monavvari has continued at Michigan State University, where she plans to encourage people to join the bone marrow registry as well.

“There’s actually someone on State’s campus who needs a bone marrow transplant too, so we’ve been contacting a lot of different campuses to try and get the word out there as well,” Monavvari said.

Though planning the drive was stressful, Kaltz said she hopes to have her sorority organize the registry annually to continue encouraging students to join. Kaltz will also begin hearing about donor matches originating from those who registered at the Union, which she looks forward to.

“I would definitely be interested in having a place for people to come register yearly, and know about it and every year I think it would get bigger and bigger,” Kaltz said. “I just can’t wait to hear about people who are matches, and if that doesn’t encourage me throughout the year, I don’t know what will.”

Kaltz added registering the new donors and organizing the eighth largest college donor drive for DKMS was not a personal success, but a success for those needing bone marrow transplants everywhere who now have 819 more chances of finding a lifesaving match in the bone marrow registry.

“When people put a person to a cause, it brings people together more,” Kaltz said. “But I kind of did it just for the whole in general, and to try and help anybody that needs (a bone marrow donor), because individually every person that is a match can be someone’s hero.”