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Swab Your Cheek events give bone-marrow donor registry a boost

By Chris Langrill, News and Community
September 29, 2017
Recent Be The Match events in downtown Boise, Jerome, Mountain Home and Meridian, resulted in 190 people swabbing their cheeks and signing up to join the registry.

One person.

That’s all it takes to make a huge impact. 

That was the recurring message at four events across southern Idaho in September.

One person – an eighth-grade girl from the Wood River Valley named Devon – provided the inspiration for the Save a Life, Swab Your Cheek events.

Devon needs a bone-marrow transplant and Camp Rainbow Gold, an organization devoted to providing empowering experiences for Idaho children diagnosed with cancer, is working to help her find a match.

The idea for the events came from Devon’s mom. When people asked her what they could do to help, she said, “Be a donor.”

From there, Camp Rainbow Gold joined forces with Be The Match, which manages the largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world. St. Luke’s, a community partner of both Camp Rainbow Gold and Be The Match, pitched in to help the efforts.

“The events were a tremendous success, and we’re so grateful for the support St. Luke’s has lent to us,” said John Philpott with Be The Match.

Philpott said the events, in downtown Boise, Jerome, Mountain Home and Meridian, resulted in 190 people swabbing their cheeks and signing up to join the registry.

In addition, people continue to register online, with a referral code connected to St. Luke’s advocacy resources.

“On top of that, we created a Facebook event page together with Camp Rainbow Gold, and that Facebook page has been viewed by over 20,000 people,” Philpott said. “Any degree of awareness that we can generate and any factual information we can disseminate is tremendously powerful, for us and for the 14,000 patients a year we are seeking to assist.”

The numbers and statistics surrounding blood cancers can be daunting. Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer such as leukemia or lymphoma, and every 10 minutes someone dies from the disease. For more than 14,000 patients every year, the only hope of survival is found in a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

But Philpott likes to go beyond all those statistics and focus on an even more important number: one.

As in, one person. It takes just one person to save another’s life.

“The core message I try to get out there is that you could be the very personal superhero that a patient is going to need someday,” Philpott said. “But if you’re not on the registry you will never know, and they will never live. So, it’s a very one-on-one sort of thing.”

Philpott knows this from experience.

Five years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I had to count on Be The Match finding a complete stranger to save my life,” Philpott said. “Gratefully, four years before a young man down in New Mexico joined the registry. … In March of 2013, he received a phone call saying there was a 40-year-old man with leukemia who was going to die without a transplant, and you’re a potential match for him.

“If he had said no, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

It’s stories like these that motivate Ashley Hook, the development associate for Camp Rainbow Gold. Hook was up before dawn to prepare the Boise booth for the Swab Your Cheek event.

As 5 p.m. approached, she was admittedly tired. But when she looked at a paper bag filled with envelopes that contained people’s swabs – representing new members of the Be The Match registry – she was all smiles.

“It’s been a really good day,” Hook said. 

About The Author

Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.