Bulldog Forward Battling Leukemia, in Urgent Need of Marrow or Cord Blood Donor
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – As Yale women’s ice hockey player Mandi Schwartz continues to battle leukemia, efforts to find her a matching marrow or cord blood donor have intensified. With help from some former Bulldogs, those efforts have expanded to include everything from hockey tournaments in Canada to the World’s Largest Baby Shower in Atlanta. For details on how you can help find a life-saving donor, read on.
Mandi, 22, was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December of 2008, just days after helping the Yale women’s hockey team to a 4-1 win over Brown. She returned home to Wilcox, Sask., and underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy. She was in remission by the spring of 2009, and returned to Yale in January of 2010 to complete her junior year. But less than four months later tests revealed the cancer had returned. She is once again home in Canada, undergoing chemotherapy.
This summer Mandi will need to have a stem cell transplant, which requires locating either a bone marrow or a cord blood donor. The Yale Athletics Department’s efforts to help started with bone marrow donor testing drives each of the last two springs, resulting in more than 1,600 people getting their cheeks swabbed to be added to the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be The Match” registry. Matches were found for other patients in need, but not for Mandi. To date, the only bone marrow donor match for her is a “9 out of 10”, not a “10 out of 10”. Partially matched bone marrow cell transplants frequently result in a life-ending graft versus host response.
To increase the chances of finding a perfect match, Mandi’s family has begun working with Dr. Tedd Collins, founder of Become My Hero, an organization that works to find donors for hard-to-match patients. Because of her ancestry, Mandi is most likely to find a match from someone of German, Russian or Ukrainian heritage. A “Become Mandi’s Hero” Facebook group has been established to help look for donors and support Mandi as she battles her way back to having a normal life.
Become Mandi’s Hero is focused on finding potential cord blood donors in addition to bone marrow donors. Cord blood has the same life-saving stem cells as bone marrow, except that partially matched cord blood stem cells rarely cause life-ending consequences. Dr. Collins believes that collecting cord blood from 100-200 babies with any combination of German, Russian or Ukrainian heritage will result in a realistic chance of finding donors that will be able to save Mandi’s life. This must be done within the next two months.
To find cord blood donors, Become Mandi’s Hero is reaching out to the general public in an effort to send or give brochures to hundreds of expectant couples who are having babies that may match Mandi's German, Russian or Ukrainian ancestry. Become Mandi’s Hero will test any mother and father who may match, then collect cord blood from those that the test shows have a high probability of matching.
The efforts to reach out to expectant couples have ranged far and wide, including an assist from one of Mandi’s former Yale teammates. Jenna Spring ’07 volunteered to distribute information about Mandi and the need for cord blood donors at the “World’s Largest Baby Shower” last weekend in Georgia. The event reached the exact audience that is critical to the success of the efforts to find a donor: expectant couples.
There is also still the possibility of finding Schwartz a perfect “10 out of 10” match from a bone marrow donor. Along those lines, a former Yale men’s hockey player is finding ways to connect those who share Schwartz’ passion for hockey with her need for a donor. Brennan Turner ‘09, who attended the same high school as Schwartz (Athol Murray College of Notre Dame) has been lining up a series of bone marrow donor testing drives in Canada in conjunction with CBC's Play On! 4on4 street hockey tournament. Billed as Canada’s largest sports festival, the tournament takes place in various Canadian cities throughout the summer. A list of those cities where there will be marrow donor testing drives is below.
Mandi’s story has received coverage throughout Canada and in the New Haven area. She also has connections in the Heartland and out West that have helped spread the word. Her younger brother Jaden was the USHL Forward of the Year with the Tri-City (Nebraska) Storm last season and is ranked No. 28 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. That makes him a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, which takes place June 25-26 in Los Angeles. He is committed to attend Colorado College this fall and will play alongside his and Mandi’s brother, Rylan, who recently completed his freshman season at the school.
Below is a partial list of ways that anyone can help Mandi.
Read more about Mandi and what is being done to help her:
Join the bone marrow donor registry:
Help contact expectant couples who are potential cord blood donors:
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity