Thankful For Being a Perfect Match

About Us | 11/20/2017

Jessica Handy
Government Affairs Director

Jessica advocates at the state capitol for fair school funding and equitable education policies.

As we approach Thanksgiving, a few Stand staff members will share their personal stories involving other organizations they are thankful for. Some are related to our work in Illinois education, but others are simply organizations we’ve dealt with personally and want to highlight for their great work. My entry kicks off the week of gratitude!

Last month, I donated bone marrow cells to a stranger with leukemia who – against all odds – happened to match my tissue type. I recently signed up on the Be The Match marrow registry, where 1 in 430 people end up going on to donate. Not long after taking that quick cheek swab, I got a call saying I might be a match. Later, they did some blood work, and had me go in for a physical. That all led to the day when I donated blood stems cells produced by my bone marrow. (Yep, that’s right. Blood stem cells. They didn’t extract marrow from my bones the way I had imagined. It was more like giving blood.)

My little bit of sacrifice – missing work for a day, a couple of medical appointments, and the procedure itself – saved a young man’s life. And it pales in comparison to what he and his family are going through. I’m glad we matched, but the more I learn, the more concerned I am for all the people who aren’t so lucky. About 97% of Caucasian patients will find a marrow match, but only 66% of African-Americans and 80% of Latino/as will. For biracial people, that number drops to 37%. I think about my biracial daughter and wonder – if she needed a donor, would she ever find one?

I’m thankful Be The Match was there to connect me to my recipient and hold my hand during the entire process. If you’re not already on the registry and you’re between the ages 18 - 44, please sign up today. You could be the only hope for someone who’s waiting for their match.

P.S. – First and foremost, go sign up! I’ll wait for you here…Now that you’ve registered for your cheek swab, you can hear more about my marrow cell donation experience in this NPR Illinois story.

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