Most college roommates become lifelong friends but, Oucahita Baptist University students Justin and Kyle have one thing in common most roommates do not – they are both peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donors.
In September 2011, the young men joined the Be The Match Registry through an effort at their Arkadelphia, Arkansas campus to help a man with a blood disease hopefully find a donor. While the drive raised awareness and registered donors, no match was found and the gentleman passed away.
Although the drive did not produce a match, Justin said attending the event gave him the education and push he needed to make the life-changing decision of joining the Registry. “Giving blood is common,” he said. “I hadn’t considered donating bone marrow for myself because I didn’t know the process.”
After becoming registry members, both men were successful matches. Kyle donated PBSC in the summer of 2012 while Justin got the call that he was a potential match in February 2013. After completing the required blood work, Justin was notified within a week that he was the best match for an international patient from Europe who was suffering from a blood disease.
Upon hearing that he was a match, Justin’s family and friends provided the emotional support he needed as he began the donation process. “A lot of my family was very excited about it,” he said. “Everyone at my school was very supportive, seeing as it was the right thing to do.”
Along with family and friends, Justin said his connection with transplant coordinator Jennifer was a defining part of his donation. “She was awesome,” he said. “She kept up a good relationship.”
For Jennifer, a search and retention specialist with the Scott & White Marrow Donor Program, a donor center that works with Be The Match, working with Justin exemplified what she loves about her career. “The best part of my job is watching these young people rearrange their lives to give a gift to someone that they may never know,” she said. “Our youth are finding ways to make changes in the world, and our Be The Match Registry fits in so well with how our younger generation can make an impact in the world around us.”
Throughout their partnership, Jennifer said Justin could not have been more dedicated to doing whatever necessary to donate. “He was class president, taking a full load of classes and working a summer job at a camp that required 24/7 availability,” she said. “If he told me he was unavailable for a summer collection, I could understand that. But he didn’t.”
As they neared Justin’s July 2013 collection date, Jennifer said they worked together with the hospital to schedule the needed pre-transplant blood work on weekends to accommodate his schedule. “All of these things ultimately give the gift of life to his patient and created a terrific bond between the two of us,” she said.
With Jennifer’s assistance, Justin said donation was an “absolutely excellent experience.” He donated in Dallas, Texas with his mother and grandmother at his side for the entire six hours. “It is an enriching, enjoyable process,” he said. “The giving process is not painful at all.”
Just as Justin was impacted by donating PBSC, Jennifer said watching him go through the process left her equally inspired. “Personally, I have an 18-year-old,” she said. “If my son becomes as responsible and focused as Justin, I would be so pleased.”