It all started with a simple goal. Brookdale nursing student Rebecca Stattner wanted to honor the memory of her long-term boyfriend Anthony McDermott, who passed away from leukemia in 2011.
“He was 25 years old, he was diagnosed at age 22, and he required a bone marrow transplant,” said Stattner. “But, because he was of mixed ancestry, his blood type was rarer than most.”
McDermott’s story, unfortunately, is not an uncommon one. Blood cancers like leukemia impact tens of thousands of young Americans each year, and kill more children in the U.S. than any other disease. When chemotherapy fails, blood cancer patients often rely on a bone marrow transplant as a life-saving procedure.
Due to the genetic constraints of a transplant, however, it can be extremely difficult to find a matching donor. Seventy percent of all patients cannot find a matching donor in their family, according to DKMS Blood Cancer Centers, and must rely on finding a match from a donor registry.
Of the 14,000 Americans who require a bone marrow transplant each year, less than half will receive one.
“Because matching is done on the genetic level, it can be very difficult for people to find a matching donor. That’s why we need to increase the registry’s diversity,” said Strattner. “Simply put, we need as many people as possible to sign up.”
To help accomplish this goal, Strattner enlisted her colleagues in the Brookdale Student Nurses Association and the Alpha Sigma chapter of the Alpha Delta Nu national honor society to host the first ever “Swabtoberfest” on the Lincroft campus.
From Oct. 26-27, the students and Brookdale Nursing Professor Gail Harrigan encouraged all members of the Brookdale community to sign up for the donor registry by swabbing their cheek in the Student Life Center. The swabs are used to determine a potential donor’s tissue type, which is then matched up against all patients who are in need of a bone marrow transplant.
“Younger people tend to have healthier cells, so as matches they are really desirable for people who have blood cancer,” said Harrigan. “And we also have a very diverse population here at Brookdale. It’s an ideal pool of potential donors to reach out to.”
As it turns out, the Brookdale community was more than willing to help. In two days, the nursing students were able to add more than 215 new names to the donor registry. Through a number of prize raffles and a donation drive, the students were also able to raise more than $500 to pay for the processing of the swabs.
“I’m so happy. It worked out incredibly well,” said Strattner, who will graduate as a registered nurse this December and plans to pursue a career in oncology and transplant procedures for young adults.
“With all the experiences I had as a family member, being in the hospital, seeing all the treatments that were done and how nurses were a part of that process, I thought, ‘I could do this.’ It’s very hard when you have a life-changing or terminal disease, because nobody knows what to do for you. I want to be an advocate for patients, especially that young-adult college age population. So this event really helps me. It shows me that I don’t have to do it all alone.”
Anthony McDermott is also survived by his daughter Rowan.
Learn more about the fight against blood cancer and register to become a donor here.
Check out more photos of Swabtoberfest here.