Bone marrow drive hopes to help student and save lives

By Liana Rosenbloom, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 15, 2012

When LSA senior Daniel Lee returned to the United States in December from a family trip to Italy feeling ill, he was rushed to the hospital where he received a life-threatening diagnosis — he had aplastic anemia, a disease that prevents bone marrow from producing red and white blood cells.

Upon hearing news of Lee’s dire need for a bone marrow transplant, students mobilized to encourage members of the campus community to donate marrow and raise awareness about the importance of joining the National Marrow Donor Registry.

As part of this effort, Sigma Kappa sorority members will work with DKMS Americas, a donor recruitment center, helping students, faculty and staff members register for the Be The Match Registry today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Anderson AB Room in the Union.

LSA senior Samira Monavvari, Lee’s friend, has been working to promote today’s event via Facebook and has received more than 1,000 confirmed attendees. Monavvari said she hopes to be able to help someone else in need of a transplant, even if she doesn't find a match for Lee.

“The fact that Dan is going through this makes us want to donate to people who we don’t even know because it’s so hard seeing what he’s going through,” Monavvari said.

According to Monavvari, Lee is known jokingly by his friends as “the next Steve Jobs,” adding that he is extremely smart, driven and friendly.

“If you ask him what he wants to do, he’ll always say he wants to be known for something,” Monavvari said. “He is the kind of kid who gets along with everyone … that’s why (his diagnosis) has touched everyone so much.”

LSA junior Jessica Kaltz, a member of Sigma Kappa, started organizing the drive prior to Lee’s diagnosis. Kaltz worked with Christian Montgomery, a University alum and DKMS Americas employee, over the past few months to organize the registry at the University.

She wrote in an e-mail interview that she hopes that Lee’s story will inspire people to attend today’s event.

“When people hear about Dan’s story, I think they will see that by simply taking five minutes of their time by signing up to become a donor, they could possibly be the life-saving difference that Dan needs,” Kaltz wrote.

Montgomery explained that the process for joining the registry involves having potential donors fill out a short form and then submit a cheek swab to determine their tissue type.
Potential donors will then be added to the Be The Match Registry, a national list of potential bone marrow donors.

If the donor is contacted as a match and decides to continue with the process, he or she will be required to take a blood test in order to obtain the best match for the patient in need.

Between four and six weeks later, the donor will undergo a marrow extraction procedure or peripheral blood stem cell donation, depending on the patient’s condition. Contrary to popular belief, the donor typically does not experience significant pain, a common misconception about the two procedures, Montgomery said.

Montgomery is not only a DKMS employee, but also a bone marrow donor himself. In 2007, he registered at an event in the Diag, and in January 2008 he was contacted as a potential match for a 22-year-old female in New Jersey suffering from paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a rare blood disease.

Nicole Mausteller, the patient to whom Montgomery made his donation, said her disorder was discovered through blood work that was required as part of the process of becoming a dental assistant.

Montgomery donated through marrow extraction in May 2008, a procedure that he said left him a bit stiff and sore for a few days. After receiving a one-month, six-month and one-year update, Montgomery and Mausteller agreed to exchange contact information. They have been in contact since February 2010 and remain good friends.

“He’s my hero,” Mausteller said. “I hope he’s forever in my life, not because he gave me his bone marrow, but I hope we’re friends forever.”

May 2012 will mark the four-year anniversary of Mausteller’s transplant. Now completely cured, Mausteller said it is very important that people join the registry to give a patient like herself a second chance at life.

“I really didn’t think I was going to find a donor,” she said. “(Especially) with younger (patients), they have their whole lives to live and if you can do something to help them, you should do it.”

Montgomery said the possibility of saving someone’s life far outweighed the mild discomfort he experienced.

“Really, what this comes down to is if you get a call and are told that you could save someone’s life in exchange for a few days of being sore or feeling flu-ish, would you do it?” Montgomery asked. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ then there’s no reason not to register.”

LSA freshman Sam Oshinsky also joined the registry in April 2011 while touring another university and donated peripheral blood stem cells in January. He said he was surprised to be contacted so soon after joining the registry, but donating to a female patient in need was life changing, adding that he is expected to learn more details about the patient’s condition at the one-month update.

“It has been an incredible experience to go through,” Oshinsky said. “While you might go through a little pain, the good I was able to do — and hopefully save this girl’s life — was all worth it.”