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Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Drive Adds 462 Potential Life Savers

Yale women's ice hockey players assist potential donors. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Yale women's ice hockey players assist potential donors. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

 

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Yale Athletics department hosted its annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive Thursday, adding 462 potential life-savers to the Be The Match Registry®. Yale's drives are part of the "Get in the Game. Save a Life." program, which includes 78 schools nationwide. Those "Get in the Game. Save a Life." drives have added more than 7,000 potential marrow donors already this year, with Yale's drive the largest to date.

Yale itself has now added a total of 6,443 people to the registry in nine years of doing drives, and at least 30 donor matches for patients with life-threatening illnesses have been located through these efforts.

Three teams -- field hockey, football and women's ice hockey -- are primarily responsible for organizing the event. This year, the Yale men's soccer team volunteered on drive day as well.

The Yale drive is named in memory of women's ice hockey player Mandi Schwartz '10 (Wilcox, Sask.) (1988-2011), whose courageous battle with cancer has inspired the Bulldogs' efforts.

The drive was held at the Schwarzman Center (Commons), and for the first time in drive history the Bulldogs had to deal with some rain. But that was only at the very beginning of the day; the sun eventually appeared -- as did the Yale Precision Marching Band, the Unorthojocks (an a capella singing group composed of student-athletes) and Yale's mascot Boola. All added to the festive nature of the event. At the drive, donors that could help save lives are identified through testing that starts with simple cheek swabs.

The "Get in the Game. Save a Life." program, involving college athletic teams organizing drives on their campuses, started in 1992 at Villanova under then-head football coach Andy Talley. It has expanded greatly recently -- there are 20 new schools this year. The program has resulted in tens of thousands of potential donors being tested. Larry Ciotti, a longtime assistant football coach at Yale, is a friend of Talley's and brought the idea to Yale.

The Yale athletic department has held drives every spring since Mandi was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December of 2008. In the weeks leading up to the drive members of the teams involved helped spread the word about the need for donors to their classmates, friends and relatives. On the day of the drive, they volunteered at the various stations set up to assist potential donors with the registration process.

"Once again, the enthusiasm of our teams was extremely impressive," said Ciotti. "These drives not only serve the purpose of finding matches for patients with life-threatening illnesses, they also are a team-building exercise for all the student-athletes involved. They get to know each other from working together so closely to make the event a success."

Mandi's story has been one of the driving forces behind the Yale drives. Unable to find a matching adult marrow donor, in September 2010 she required a stem cell transplant using two anonymously donated units of umbilical cord blood. A biopsy in December 2010 indicated that she had relapsed, and she passed away at home in Saskatchewan on Apr. 3, 2011.

Mandi's plight shed further light on the needs of cancer patients everywhere, and the value of marrow donation. Every year, thousands of people of all ages are diagnosed with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases. Many of them will die unless they get a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant from a matching donor. Seventy percent of these patients do not have a donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find a genetic match to save their life.

This year, the Bulldogs welcomed a special volunteer -- Patsy Kamercia, the field hockey coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School. Ciotti reached out to Kamercia, who needs a marrow transplant and is seeking a matching donor, and arranged for her to speak to all the teams involved in the drive last month. Her presence on Thursday served as an inspiration to those working the drive.

"The dedication of Yale's student-athletes stands out," said Jennifer St. Peter, Recruitment Supervisor for the Marrow Donor Program at Rhode Island Blood Center, who assisted with this year's drive and has worked at several other drives. "They get it. They do a great job of explaining the significance of joining the registry -- all of the people who came to register today understood exactly what they were there for."

 

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