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Bone Marrow Drive to Help MIT Student

By Sonali Mukherjee

A letter written by David X. Li ’02 which appealed for help from the Institute community was presented, appropriately enough, at the “MIT Cares” rally on October 30th. Li, who sufferes from a form of Leukemia, entreated the campus to participate in a bone marrow drive that would add more marrow donors to the national and international registries and possibly help him or other cancer patients.

The bone marrow drive will be held on Friday, November 19, 1999 in the Bush Room (10-105) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This drive is aimed towards finding minority donors, such as Asians and Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and mixed races. The National Marrow Donor Database contains very few donors from these ethnicities; minority leukemia patients hoping for a bone marrow transplants are, as a result, at a disadvantage.

The drive’s organizers encourage as many people in the above ethnicity groups as possible to participate: “We are hoping to get maybe one hundred minority students signed up” said Daniel Kwon ’02, one of Li’s roommates freshman year.

The drive is funded in part by the Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation, which is sponsoring the minority testing. Only a small portion of funding will be used to test caucasians. According to Kwon, “non-minority students who are interested in donating should bring their minority friends” to increase their chances of being permitted to register at this drive.

The whole idea of becoming a bone marrow donor may seem vague and frightening, but it “is a very simple process. Becoming registered takes ten minutes out of your day,” said Grant W. Kristofek ’02, Li’s other freshman year roommate.

It is requested that all participants in the drive be between the ages of 18 and 60, be in good health, and have had no tattooing performed on them within the last year. To register, donors give two tablespoons of blood and sign a donor consent form. The blood obtained at the drive will be used merely as the basis for a preliminary match. Only if that match gives indications of being compatible with a specific leukemia patient will more blood testing be needed to decide if the donor is a precise match. “Becoming registered doesn’t mean you will become a donor necessarily,” said Kristofek.

Once a precise match is confirmed, the donor is informed about all the steps of the process, which include an extraction of five percent of total marrow from the donor’s hip. The donor is also at liberty to refuse to continue the process at any point, because the entire donation process is completely anonymous in relation to the patients. Only until one year after the actual transplant will the donor and the recipient be allowed to make contact.

Supporters say the pros of the actual surgery greatly outweigh the cons. Donation carries no financial burden for the donor because the patient’s insurance covers the surgery and the hospital stay, which is minimal. Physically, all the donor feels is a bit of soreness after the procedure. The marrow usually regenerates within a few weeks.

The result of the procedure for the recipient is a chance to beat cancer. But the battle against the disease is by no means easy -- the odds of an anonymous donor matching a unrelated recipient are 1 in 20,000.

MIT has contributed much to Cambridge and Boston through their community service programs -- This drive reaches beyond the confines of these two cities and affects the entire nation, and possibly the entire world while still possibly benefiting a member of the MIT community.

Katie Jeffreys contributed to the reporting of this story.