Be the Match seeks potential bone marrow donors to save lives

MSU’s chapter of Be the Match successfully added 330 potential bone marrow donors to its registry this past February and they hope to add more during the upcoming “Get in the Game” drive on April 23.

Be the Match is a registry operated by the Minneapolis-based National Marrow Donor Program and is the world’s largest hematopoietic cell registry (hematopoietic cells are stem cells from which all blood cells originate). The MSU chapter of Be the Match originated in 2007 when Kathy Weaver, a health professions advisor at MSU and the current Be the Match advisor, began drives to add people to the registry after her daughter passed away from a blood cancer disorder. She was later joined by Teresa Klusmann, an administrative assistant in the department of English.

Signing up to donate is free and if an applicant is selected as a donor, they have the opportunity to donate healthy bone marrow to help individuals suffering from blood cancers such as leukemia and other immune system and genetic diseases.

“When you consider that you can save a life, what you’re doing for someone, you realize it is not that scary,” chapter president Karin Raschkow said, explaining the importance of the drives.

Initially Weaver and Klusmann’s work was done under the Montana Marrow Program, which in time became associated with Be the Match; the MSU chapter of Be the Match was officially founded three semesters ago. Since 2007 nearly 2,000 individuals have been added to the registry through the efforts of Weaver, Klusmann and Be the Match. Of those 2,000, six have been contacted to serve as donors.

Currently the MSU chapter has 15 active members and is headed by Raschkow. A Billings native and a junior cell biology and neuroscience major, Raschkow first became involved with Be the Match after responding to an email asking for volunteers. First involved in the chapter as an event coordinator, Raschkow later became vice president before being elected as president this past March.

The chapter does not hold regularly scheduled meetings. Instead, members meet as the need arises, often immediately prior to drives. “It’s not a big time commitment,” Raschkow said, “But when we do meet we ask you to be there.”

The MSU chapter of Be the Match holds drives once per semester to add potential donors to the registry. These drives generally last a full day. During drives, data for the registry is usually collected by swabbing the cheeks of the donor after their medical history has been checked. The information gained from this is then processed and entered into the Be the Match database at which point it is available for medical professionals to consult. According to Raschkow, roughly one in 300 people in the registry are asked to serve as donors.

In two-thirds of cases the necessary blood cells are obtained from circulating blood through a peripheral blood stem cell donation; in other cases the cells are obtained through a surgical procedure which extracts bone marrow.

In addition to continued drives to expand the Be the Match registry, Raschkow hopes the MSU chapter will be able to do more fundraising in the future. Be the Match chapters across the nation fundraise to contribute to a national general fund which covers various expenses, including the $100 fee to process applicant data gathered in drives, and the costs of travel and lodging for individuals selected as donors.

“We have a great set of team members that are just going after it. We have great marketing directors that are getting the word out, and fundraising coordinators; we haven’t done a lot of fundraising in the past, but we are implementing that in this next drive and we will see how it goes,” Raschkow said.

Potential fundraising activities that Raschkow mentioned include 5K runs to find local sponsors and benefit shows involving local talent. The chapter plans to hold a silent auction at the upcoming “Get in the Game” drive on April 23. Members of the MSU football team have volunteered to assist at the drive, which will be held in SUB ballrooms B and C from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

For those interested in becoming involved with Be the Match, Karin Raschkow can be contacted at bethematchoncampusmsu@gmail.com.