CJU Gives the Gift of Life

On Tuesday, November 9, the Colgate Jewish Union (CJU) hosted a DNA sample drive for the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. The DNA that the participants swabbed from the inside of their cheeks will be sent to the Gift of Life Foundation. The information will be put in a database and checked against the specific type of bone marrow that is needed by people around the world who are waiting for bone marrow transplants.

Bone marrow is a flexible tissue found inside the bones and works to produce blood cells. Patients suffering from blood diseases, bone marrow diseases and cancer benefit greatly from the healthy marrow of generous donors. Bone marrow, unlike blood, is not easily transferred between donors and recipients because the type of match necessary for a bone marrow transplant is much more specific than just a blood type match. Although family members are usually the closest match for bone marrow, it is still necessary to have a registry to support the over 6,000 people who have not made inter-family transplants.

While there is a worldwide registry, the Gift of Life database is made specifically for people of the Jewish ethnicity. Non-Jews can still be part of the database but people of similar ethnicities have a better chance of matching up with each other genetically. Nevertheless, the donation process was open to all Colgate students, not just the 15-20 percent of the campus population that is Jewish.   

Junior and Colgate Jewish Union member David Adler said the group was aiming for approximately 70 to 100 donations on Tuesday. The group, however, has 200 donation kits and hopes to gather more DNA in coming weeks.    

Signing up to donate bone marrow is a serious pledge. There is a one in one hundred chance of being called upon to donate marrow and the donor must undergo a 40 hour commitment and a procedure in which marrow is extracted from the iliac crest in the pelvic bone while the patient is under anesthesia.    

“I think my temporary pain is worth saving someone regardless of whether I know them or not,” Adler said.

For others, being part of the bone marrow registry has personal significance. Sophomore Rachel Godbout swabbed her DNA on Tuesday because her long-time friend was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, the inability to produce sufficient numbers of new blood cells. Because of a bone marrow donation from her sister, Godbout’s friend was able to make a full recovery and live a normal, healthy life.

“I will admit that I’m scared,” Godbout said about the prospect of being called upon to donate her bone marrow one day, “but it’s a small price to pay for a life.”

All potential donors must go though a screening process to ensure that they understand the deep commitment involved in being on the bone marrow registry. There are over 136,000 bone marrow donors registered through Gift of Life and the organization has facilitated over 2,000 transplants since 1991.

Nationally, there are over 100,000 people still waiting for organ and tissue transplants.

Contact Carter Cooper at [email protected].