Donors dive deep for cancer victims

Brad Wills watched a child in his neighborhood suffer the ravages of cancer twice before the age of 10. Radiation, chemotherapy and the illness itself took their toll on his childhood.

“But he ended up having a bone marrow transplant that saved his life,” said Wills, a second-year medical student.

Wills, along with second-year medical student Amanda MacGregor, are recruiting potential donors for the Be the Match Foundation and the National Marrow Donor Program. The two nonprofit organizations track bone marrow donor characteristics and try to match them with patients.

MacGregor’s interest in oncology and the chance to affect a future patient’s outcome drove her to get involved.

“As students, there are so few ways for us to directly impact patients,” said MacGregor. “But this is a way anyone can help.”

Potential donors simply answer a questionnaire and allow a mouth swab. From beginning the paperwork to completing the registration, the process takes about 15 minutes. That still leaves 45 minutes for the average lunch break.

Wills and MacGregor are targeting students and minorities this year, aiming to surpass last year’s donor registration—one of the biggest single-day drives in Be the Match history, with more than 500 new registrants.

“It’s very important to raise awareness about the importance of diversity,” Wills said. “If we can increase the number of under-represented populations in the database, we can increase the lifespan of patients suffering from cancer and other diseases.”

Only 30 percent of patients share a genetic match with a sibling. And once a patient has to move out into the general population for a match, the odds decrease significantly. Fewer than half of the 10,000 people who needed a transplant last year were matched with someone from the 8 million-member registry, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. The largest percentage of patients who could not find a match came from minorities. The odds of a person who belongs to a minority or fast-growing multiracial category receiving a bone marrow transplant is around 20 percent.

For those who cannot be a bone marrow donor, volunteers are also collecting monetary donations for the program.

“It costs $100 per potential donor for the sample to be analyzed and added to the database. We’re trying to raise $1,000 to offset some of the cost,” Wills said.

More than 550,000 Americans, and 7.5 million people worldwide, die of cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society. For more information, contact Brad Wills at bwills@georgiahealth.edu or Amanda MacGregor at amacgregor@georgiahealth.edu. Visit marrow.org.

How you can help

Volunteers will register potential donors Nov. 16 at the following locations and times:

On campus

  • Health Sciences Building – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Children’s Medical Center overlook – noon to 6 p.m.

Off campus

  • Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1223 Laney-Walker Blvd. – noon to 6 p.m.
  • Augusta State University, 2500 Walton Way – noon to 6 p.m.
  • St. Mary’s on the Hill Catholic Church, 1420 Monte Sano Ave. – noon to 6 p.m.
  • Blanchard & Calhoun Insurance Agency Inc., 1202 Town Park Lane – noon to 6 p.m.
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