By Zainab Zawam’15
Looking to help colleague Michael Starr recover from a debhilitating disease, forty staff members gathered at Midwood on November 27, 2013 to have their mouth swabbed and tested for a bone marrow match.
Dr. Starr was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer, in 2009. He taught in Midwood for 7 years as a dean and a flight science teacher before retiring in 2011. Dr. Starr and his wife Ms. Margaret DeSimone have had a rough five years. Now with an estimated year left to live, finding a match would allow him to have another three years or even a possible cure.
“I wish I would have been tested sooner,” said Ms. Fannie Daniels. “Just knowing that you can help someone prolong their lives is empowering.”
The stem cell drive was made possible by an organization called “Be the Match,” and it was a success. In addition to the 40 staff members, another 26 volunteers, family and friends of the school staff, also had their mouths swabbed. To be able to participate you have to be between the ages of 18-44 years. Age is a big factor because medical research has shown that cells from younger donors give patients a better chance of long-term survival after a transplant.
“I thought it was very successful considering the age restraint and the average age of the staff,” said Ms. DeSimone, “It’s nice to have a supporting staff.”
A few other important factors that increase a patient’s chance of finding a match are the donor’s race and ethnicity because it is more likely a match is found within a donor’s own race and ethnicity.
“There is such a high percentage of people of color who need stem cells and bone marrow,” said Ms. Shaniece Mosley, chemistry teacher. “They are put on the wait list for years because very few people of color donate.”
A representative from “Be the Match,” Krystell Rodriquez, came with donor applications and pamphlets explaining the process and the commitment. She brought kits that contained four swab sticks and instructions on how to swab the insides of your mouth. The DNA cells that are obtained from the swabbed saliva are used to test for a bone marrow match. This may take six weeks.
Ms. Mosley was called back and went through a phone survey in which they repeatedly asked about her commitment to donate, if she would be called.
“I was a little scared because it is part of you and it’s someone’s life in your hands,” said Ms. Mosley. “Someone could be able to live because of something I choose to do.”
You may withdraw from the donor list, but only prior to finding out if you are a match. It was made clear that once you are a match, you must commit a certain time of your life to help this person. If you are called upon, you cannot back out unless there are severe changes in your health. You must continue to participate until the age of 61. A donor is not allowed to see the patient for one year after the donation so they would not feel responsible if anything went wrong.
According to the “Be the Match.com,” donating bone marrow does have side effects. A bone marrow transplant is a procedure where doctors use special, hollow needles to withdraw liquid marrow from both sides of the back of the pelvic bone. Some patients feel the procedure more painfully than others, but the most common side effects are back or hip pain, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and bruising at the incision site. Some donors go home the same day or the next morning. The donation is fully covered by donor life and medical insurance. The donor will get all the support needed for their well-being, including long-term follow ups.
“I knew what the commitment was, and I was comfortable with the possible procedures if I was a match,” said Ms. Stephanie Gluck, guidance counselor. Despite the willingness of the staff, no matches have been found for Dr. Starr.
“Just having two people donate is amazing,” said Ms. DeSimone. “I’m so thankful to our staff for caring enough to participate in this drive and for their well wishes.”
By Zainab Zawam’15