In the fall of 1992, Villanova head football coach Andy Talley and his players hosted a bone marrow testing drive at the school to encourage individuals to sign up for the bone marrow registry. Before the event, Talley sent emails to many of the Division I football coaches to see if other schools were interested in participating in the drive.
Lehigh football will continue this tradition and host its eighth annual bone marrow testing drive in Lamberton Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday. When people sign up to become possible donors, they are put into a system and contacted if they are a match for someone who needs a bone marrow transplant.
Defensive line coach Donnie Roberts said Lehigh was asked to hold the drive because the students had “social consciousness.” Lehigh’s drive has added 1,200 new people to the bone marrow registry, with 65 called as possible matches, Roberts said. Four people have been perfect matches and have gone through the entire process, three of which were football players.
Drew Paulson, ’16, decided to get involved with the drive because of a personal connection.
“Coach Roberts runs it, and he knows last year my mom survived breast cancer for the second time and so did my grandma, so he would call me in every once and while and just talk to me about it,” Paulson said. “So I decided to do a little bit more and help out.”
Paulson is on the registry and said he would donate if he were contacted as a match.
“A little bit of pain is worth someone else’s life in my eyes,” Paulson said.
Of the 300 schools to hold bone marrow drives last year, Lehigh had the most diverse group of participants in the drive. Roberts said this diversity is important because donors typically can only donate to people of the same ethnic background, and 97 percent of individuals who are of white descent have the ability match with someone through the registry. Jarrod Howard ,’17, said the percentage is drastically lower for African-Americans at 76 percent, and other ethnicities are even lower.
The goal of this year’s event is to have 250 new individuals sign up for the registry.
Members of the football team work to spread the word about the event by speaking in classes and posting on social media. On the day of the drive, each student is assigned a different job to ensure the event runs smoothly.
Members of the football help to run the event, and the majority of the players on the football team are on the registry. Roberts said 90 percent of the players are on the registry.
Howard said the only players who may not be on the registry would be first-year students on the team, and Roberts said the entire team has been on the registry in past years.
Paulson and Howard said joining the registry takes about ten minutes, four cheek swabs and some paperwork.
One of the stigmas around joining the registry is the pain associated with the donation process. According to bethematch.org, the two types of donation processes are peripheral blood stem cell and pelvic extraction.
“When we first present, it there are a lot of guys who are hesitant because they think its drawing blood or the marrow is being taken from your hip and all the other horror stories you hear and see on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’” Roberts said.
He said the peripheral blood stem cell is not painful and is similar to a blood test. He also said a healthy person will recover within two days. The pelvic extraction can be the more painful of the two. According to bethematch.org, the individual is put under general or regional anesthesia for this process. Roberts said this donation has been explained to him as feeling like bumping into a table and getting a bruise.
“Its not something thats going to debilitate you for months,” Roberts said. “This isn’t research. This is a cure.”