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Student leaders gather near Friendship Oak to send a message of support to alumna Robin Roberts.
When senior organizational communication major Whitney Christy heard about an effort forming on the Southeastern campus to help recruit potential bone marrow donors in honor of alumna Robin Roberts, she was eager to get involved.
A native of Donaldsonville, Christy had personal reasons to join the effort, called Swabbin’ 4 Robin. Her father and namesake, Whitney Joseph Christy, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. The successful transplant was performed in 2002.
Christopher McKinley demonstrates the swabbing
Student leaders at Southeastern are joining with Be the Match, a national bone marrow
donor program, in a year-long effort to educate the public and recruit potential donors
for patients diagnosed with leukemia and other life-threatening blood diseases.
The program is being conducted in honor and support of Roberts, “the Good Morning America” anchor and Southeastern basketball star who recently underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease also known as pre-leukemia. Roberts’ sister, WWL-TV morning anchor Sally-Ann Roberts, provided the marrow for the transplant procedure.
The ‘Swabbin’ name also refers to the DNA collection method that requires a simple, painless cheek swab. There is no need to draw blood or any other samples.
“Our goal is to help educate the campus and the general public about the need for potential donors and to sponsor at least one DNA collection event at competitions of all Southeastern athletic teams,” said Christy. “We will also sponsor collection events on campus where students will be encouraged to participate.”
Whitney and senior organizational communication major Chris McKinley of Baton Rouge are spearheading the student-led project. Both have undergone training to be DNA collectors and have trained other student leaders from various fraternities, sororities, student organizations and athletic teams.
“It’s a very simple process, just a matter of swabbing the inside of the cheek to collect cells for DNA analysis and typing,” McKinley said.
Once the swabs are collected, the information will be coded into the national database of potential donors. There is a particular need for African American donors.
“African Americans are more genetically diverse than those of other heritages, so it’s more difficult to find a donor match,” Christy said. “And while the registry has more than nine million potential donors in its database, only about seven percent of these are of African American or black heritage. Only about 66 percent of African American patients ever find a donor match. In fact, the database needs more representation from all minorities.”
McKinley said the goal is to collect as many strongly committed donors as possible from all ethnic groups, particularly those between the ages of 18 and 44. He emphasized the importance of recruiting strongly committed potential donors.
“The cost of processing the DNA is expensive, about $100 per sample, so it’s not anything to be considered lightly or on a whim,” he added.
On-campus partners include the Southeastern Foundation, Athletics Department, Student Government Association, Greek and other student organizations. The campaign will also include T-shirt sales and fund raising activities to help offset costs for Be the Match.
Be the Match is the world’s largest, most diverse registry of potential marrow donors and has facilitated more than 50,000 transplants since 1987.
For more information and for collection events, go to the web page southeastern.edu/swabbin4robin or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Swabbin4Robin.