Written by Rachel Timmerman, Athletic Communications student intern
Three years ago, Student-Athlete Development intern Kaela Anderson made a small decision that ended up having a big impact on her life – and changed the life of someone else.
During her years as a Gopher swimmer, Anderson volunteered at the annual HopeDay Festival – an event similar to a mini state fair, put on by Gopher student athletes and HopeKids, a nonprofit organization that provides events for children with cancer and life-threatening medical conditions.
Each year, a group from Be A Hero Become A Donor Foundation, attends the festival to help add students and families to the registry. The group works in conjunction with Be the Match, who manages the largest bone marrow registry in the world.
And with a simple cheek swab, Anderson made the decision to save a life.
The odds of being selected are very low – only one in 540 registered donors will go on to donate.
But Anderson marks the fourth Gopher to donate through Be The Match, following Brian Peterson (wrestling), Jordan Jess (baseball), and TJ Oakes (baseball).
It took three years for Anderson to get the life-changing call.
“I signed up thinking, ‘I probably won’t get chosen,’ but turns out it happened and I was very excited,” Anderson said.
There are two ways a donor can provide bone marrow – by peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, and bone marrow surgery.
Most of the time, the less invasive PBSC is performed, but Anderson underwent surgery.
“Since my patient was younger, they decided the actual bone marrow would work better,” Anderson said.
Anderson was unconscious while doctors made two incisions on her pelvic bone, taking out almost a liter of bone marrow.
But the pain was worth it to Anderson.
“Honestly, it wasn’t really that much pain for the cost of saving a life,” Anderson said. “And I would do it again if I had to tomorrow.”
Now fully recovered from her procedure earlier in June, she’s planning this year’s HopeDay Festival.
“I think this year I’m gonna do a little speech at the HopeDay Festival to get [student-athletes] excited to get signed up [for the registry],” Anderson said. “It’s a really cool experience if you get chosen to do it.”
Now that her procedure is over, she can contact her patient through anonymous letters for a year.
“After the full year, if my patient is doing okay, they can choose to open up conversation,” Anderson said. “Be The Match actually covers flights, hotels, things to get you guys to meet. So hopefully that will be happening in the near future.”
The two have already started corresponding, and Anderson recently sent her patient a gift to make her hospital room feel more like home.
“It’s just so cool to be apart of something bigger than you,” Anderson said. “I never thought that I’d be chosen to do this and I’m so happy that I was.”
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