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'Be the Match' drive raises awareness for blood disorders with bone marrow registry

April 13, 2024
Brione Griffin, left, a second-year medical student and National Marrow Donor Program volunteer, speaks about the importance of becoming a donor in Brody Square on April 12, 2024. The NMDP accepted new donors in Brody Square, with the hope of finding a potential match for a needed transplant.
Brione Griffin, left, a second-year medical student and National Marrow Donor Program volunteer, speaks about the importance of becoming a donor in Brody Square on April 12, 2024. The NMDP accepted new donors in Brody Square, with the hope of finding a potential match for a needed transplant.

The National Marrow Donor Program, or "Be The Match," hosted its annual drive yesterday at Michigan State University to spread awareness for blood disorders. The drive was held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Brody Square and set up a bone marrow registry anyone could sign up for to match with patients, increasing their chances of receiving a bone marrow transplant.

MSU kinesiology senior, Black Student Alliance Campus Liason and NMDP volunteer Mychaela Lovelace helped organize and lead the event. Lovelace, who was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia at age five, celebrated her 15th year of remission.

Aplastic Anemia is a rare blood disorder that occurs when the body's bone marrow does not produce enough red and white blood cells and platelets, causing hemoglobin levels to drop. 

Lovelace was diagnosed with the disorder's most severe form and told that a bone marrow transplant was needed for her to live. In 2009, her family received a call from their doctor and found a 10 out of 10 match, allowing Lovelace to receive her transplant immediately.

"To receive a bone marrow transplant, it’s very hard for minorities because there’s not a lot of us on the bone marrow registry list," Lovelace said. "It was a hard process to find a match for me … I'm one of the first African Americans to receive a 10 out of 10 match from an unrelated donor."

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After receiving her transplant, however, Lovelace developed complications, such as nausea due to prior chemotherapy, and developed another disorder that attacked her skin. To this day, Lovelace undergoes transfusions to support her immune system.

Now celebrating her 15th year of remission, Lovelace is an advocate for patients who have died from aplastic anemia and other blood cancers. 

In the "Be the Match" drive, she explained, people sign up with their personal information, have their mouth swabbed and are added to the registry. NMDP Recruitment Coordinator Erin Martin said over 100 people signed up for the registry in the event last year.

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Multiple student organizations, such as Lovelace's sorority, the Delta Zeta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, or MAPS, and Black Student Alliance volunteered with the event.

Human biology senior Jordyn Brown said volunteering with donor events like NMDP makes a significant impact. 

Brown, who is a member of MAPS, said she wasn't familiar with NMDP and wanted to learn more about the organization and drives.

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Lovelace's sorority sisters also volunteered, greeting students at the entrance of Brody, providing information about the disorder to students, passing out flyers and providing snacks.

Interior design junior and Delta Zeta Chapter Member Kelly McFadden said she thinks the event can give patients and their families hope. McFadden said it's important to her to spread awareness about the disorder and help patients find a match. 

"Through this event, supporters can be a positive source and encouragement by signing up and bringing more awareness," McFadden said. "A lot of people really don't know about the bone marrow registry or know about these disorders, so spreading awareness is just the first step."

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Other students shared their stories about battling with blood disorders, or the disorders of a loved one, during the event. Supporters gathered around to listen to the challenges each student experienced. 

Human medicine sophomore Brionne Griffin discussed the gravity of blood cancers and emphasized how they are a concern for everyone, regardless of race or background.

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Each year, Griffin said, 12,000 individuals are diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers, and African American patients only have a 29% chance of finding a donor due to genetics and limited access to health care. 

"African Americans possess unique genetic markers that are essential for successful matches," Griffin said. "But, sadly, they are vastly underrepresented in the donor registry."

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Lovelace also touched on challenges during her childhood, such as her family experiencing financial issues as a result of hospital expenses. While she has been through a lot because of her disorder, Lovelace said, she's worked to stay motivated in life.

"I just want you all to know and understand that you never know what people are going through," Lovelace said. "I wake up every day. I smile; I’m cheerful. I’m kind to everyone. I still go to class every day and you will never know that I’m in pain."

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