In an effort to help people living with rare illnesses get life-saving bone marrow and stem cell transplants, Bowling Green State University will host a Be the Match registry drive from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Monday at the Perry Field House.
The drive is part of the university’s Well-O-Ween health and wellness events and supports the National Marrow Donor program.
To participate, people ages 18 to 40 simply need to show up and get a swab of their cheek. From there, the swab is analyzed to see if the person is a potential bone marrow or stem cell match for someone fighting a rare illness.
For one BGSU staff member and alumna, the mission behind Be the Match is intensely personal.
Danielle Burkin ‘94 gave blood stem cells to her daughter, Hope, who lived with the effects of Fanconi anemia – an inherited DNA-repair disease that can lead to bone marrow failure. Hope touched thousands of lives during her 17 years. Burkin wants Hope’s memory to continue to reach many more people and urges fellow Falcons to see if they can Be the Match.
“After Hope passed away, her classmates at Perrysburg High School decided to hold a Be the Match registry drive in honor of her birthday, right before they would have graduated,” Burkin said. “That’s when our involvement with Be the Match started.”
That first registry in Hope’s memory was in 2018 and was repeated the next year before the pandemic interrupted. After restrictions were lifted, Burkin and her husband, Donny, considered continuing the Be the Match effort at their church but realized there was an even better venue with the potential to find significantly more matches: BGSU.
“I was working here at BGSU when Hope passed away, so my colleagues and friends very much know about her. I’m not shy about talking about her because that’s part of my grieving process,” said Burkin, who has been with the BGSU English department for seven years and serves as administrative secretary.
“I do talk quite a bit about the bone marrow donation process because I think it’s really important that people here know this is an opportunity for you to make a difference in the life of a patient and their entire family.”
Burkin said that having the event at BGSU is so important since the university atmosphere provides a greater concentration of possible donors.
“Be the Match says that college campuses are where they are really finding more success because there is an age limit to who can register to potentially donate,” Burkin said.
University settings often also afford Be the Match a more diverse population from which to find potential donors, she said.
Burkin, who serves on the BGSU Classified Staff Council executive team, reached out to BGSU President Rodney Rogers and BGSU Chief Health Officer Ben Batey, to see how Be the Match could fit into the university’s mission of being a public university for the public good.
“It really made sense to pair it with the Well-O-Ween event because we can reach out to students who are already there getting their flu shots and COVID vaccines, and the Perry Field House location and parking help us connect to community members as well,” Burkin said.
Batey said the registry drive aligns with the BGSU values.
“BGSU is excited to be able to coordinate and host a Be the Match registry drive on campus. As a public university for the public good, this is a fantastic way for our faculty, staff and students to exemplify our community of care by potentially being there to save the life of someone who desperately needs a bone marrow transplant,” Batey said.
Be the Match at BGSU aims to educate people about the life-changing results – from a simple cheek swab – for patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases, as well as demystify what it takes to donate bone marrow and blood stem cells.
“Being a bone marrow donor can make a big impact for such a small amount of commitment on the donor’s part. Donating marrow or blood stem cells is honestly just one of the easiest ways to make a difference — you’re not getting cut open, you’re not having a long-term recovery,” Burkin said. “The next day you might have some bruises from where you were poked, like any other time you have a blood draw, but that’s it. You could do this more than once in your lifetime, especially if you have a really rare type of match.”
Participants will answer medical history questions and Be the Match will determine if they are a fit for the registry. They will then have the inside of their cheek swabbed and a test will determine their human leukocyte antigen type to see if they match with patients needing bone marrow or blood stem cell transplants.
“Once you’re in the registry, if Be the Match determines that you would be a great potential donor, they will reach out to you for the next steps,” Burkin said.
She also said potential donors could be in the registry and never be called upon, and if donors are called and it’s not the right time in their life to donate, that’s OK too.
Burkin said that getting 50 people swabbed would be considered a success, but she’s confident the event will see many more participants, especially with an interest boost from Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which has Be the Match as the fraternity’s national philanthropy effort.