Feb. 13, 2013
You Are a Match
Written by Chelsea White
University of Minnesota Athletic Communications
Everyone wants to do their part. You check the box saying you will be a donor on your driver’s license, you get a haircut and contribute to Locks of Love, or even spend the afternoon waiting to get a cookie after donating at a local blood drive. You do a small deed hoping that you are making a difference, while never really knowing exactly when or if you are actually helping. When sophomore pitcher Jordan Jess and his three roommates walked around on the University of Minnesota’s annual HopeDay Festival, they entered with the same intention, however little did Jess know that on that day he would begin a journey that would eventually end up saving a life.
The booth that caught the eye of Jess as he walked around the festival that day was joining the marrow registry. Be The Match is an organization that strives to find bone marrow and stem cell donors for patients who are struggling with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. Diseases such as those hit home for Jess and the Minnesota baseball team earlier in the year when their very own coach Todd Oakes battled acute myeloid leukemia. Knowing what his coach had been through, and knowing how devastating that illness can be, Jess put his name down, got his mouth swabbed, and signed up to be a potential life changing match. Little did he know then that at the moment he made that decision to join Be The Match, there was a person out there in the world who was battling for their life, just waiting for their personal savior to come swooping in.
"I was extremely proud of Jordan and how he embraced the opportunity to be a donor,” Todd Oakes said. “Finding a donor match is very difficult and it's a blessing that he was a match for somebody and can help save a life."
The chances of being a donor are surprisingly not that significant. Many individuals who join Be The Match can have their name on the donor list for years before someone needs them to contribute. In fact only about one for every 540 people is found to be a blood match for a patient. So the natural emotion of pure shock came as no surprise when Jess received an e-mail after only two months of being on the official match list.
“I got an e-mail that was sent in the morning around 10 A.M. but I never checked my account until that night. The e-mail said “you are a match!” I was shocked; I could not believe it. I told my roommates and they were shocked as well. So the next day I called the organization and they reassured me that I was indeed a match and needed to start doing physicals to see if I was 100 percent a fit,” said Jess.
"I got tingles and a warm feeling up and down my body when Jordan called and told me he was a match for somebody,” Oakes said. “It was an awesome feeling for me and I felt a great sense of gratitude having been through the transplant situation myself."
And so the process began. It takes a lot of time and a lot of preparation to completely fulfill the act of having a transplant. Although someone can be informed that they are an initial match, further testing must be done to ensure that the recipient is getting the best possible donation that they can get.
“I just kept in touch with a contact from the organization once about every two weeks. I had a ton of paperwork to fill out, had blood tests, physicals that would test my vitals,” said Jess. “Then a couple weeks passed and they gave me a call and told me the results: they looked good. From there I was in a complete waiting period, waiting for the moment when it was best for the recipient to receive the stem cells.”
From December until early January, Jess had no contact with the organization. It was not until late January that he was contacted and told when the official donation day would be- the patient was ready for the transplant.
Jess added, “I was very nervous in anticipation for when they were going to call me for the donation. The call eventually came and told me early February was when they wanted to do it, which was a perfect time because the baseball team had not started the season yet. I gave the donation and the recipient got the transplant the very next day.”
When opting to be a stem cell donor, there are two ways in which the transplant can be received. The more evasive approach is to give bone marrow taken from the spine. The other option, the option that the Ripon, Wis., native was asked to provide, was by peripheral blood stem cell donation. This process involved getting shots of fligrastim leading up to the procedure which stimulates blood cells. Then on the day of the donation, blood is pumped through needles in and out of your arms to a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. Enduring a treatment like that can often be uncomfortable and cause soreness, but not for Jess.
“I have felt pretty good,” Jess said. “The morning after I was a little light headed because your body has on average 5.6 liters of blood and they ran a total of 24 liters of blood in and out of my body that day. You are not completely right after going through that ordeal,” said Jess. “My arms were so heavy, but it is nothing compared to what the patient goes through. That was my mentality, sitting in the tiny room is so small compared to what TO and the recipient deals with.”
It took Jess six hours of sitting in the hospital with needles in his arms to complete the transplant procedure. Luckily for him, he had his parents there for the process. Jess said, “My parents were with me all day, they were super supportive. I was so happy and lucky that they were there with me, they are great people.”
A recipient would never need a transplant if their life did not depend on it. Millions suffer from diseases such as leukemia and other blood related illnesses, and the fate sight of hope that comes from a donor like Jess makes the entire world. Unfortunately, Jess knows very little about the patient that his donation went to. For privacy and safety reasons, the Be The Match organization does not release information on the recipient. But with or without the details, Jess is very thankful that he was able to make a difference in a stranger’s life.
If Jess had not passed by the tent that day, he could not say in certainty whether or not he would have reached out to join the registration. Luckily for him and his recipient, Jordan Jess definitely did his part.
Individuals who would like to join the Be the Match organization can follow this link. On Thurs., Feb. 14, individuals can sign up at one of six locations on campus from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Feb. 14. Be The Match On Campus Student Organization and Multicultural Pharmacy Student Organization will be signing up registrants in the Great Hall in Coffman Memorial Student Union, at Java City in Moos Tower, the atrium in Carlson School of Management, the TV lounge/first floor in Sanford Hall, at Kappa Sigma Fraternity and in Room 110 in the St. Paul Student Center on the St. Paul Campus.