April 17, 2013

17 and Counting: Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive Thursday

Drive Open to Public, Could Help Save Lives

Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive at Yale
Part of the "Get in the Game. Save a Life." Program for the Be The Match Registry®

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – At least 17 life-saving donor matches for patients in need have been found through the Yale athletic department's annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive during the last four years. This Thursday, the Bulldogs will attempt to add to that total. The drive, which is part of the nationwide "Get in the Game. Save a Life." campaign for the Be The Match Registry®, will be held Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Commons on the corner of College Street and Grove Street in New Haven. It is open to the general public. Donors that could help save lives are located through a registration process that consists of simple cheek swabs.

In recognition of the impact her courageous battle with cancer has had on efforts to save lives through marrow donor registration drives, Yale holds the drive in memory of women's ice hockey player Mandi Schwartz '10 (Wilcox, Sask.) (1988-2011). Yale's record-setting drives have added more than 3,000 potential donors to the Be The Match Registry®. The current number of life-saving donor matches, 17, matches Mandi's uniform number.

Yale has held drives each of the past four springs, ever since Mandi was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December of 2008. The 17 donor matches include Yale senior field hockey player Lexy Adams (Lancaster, Pa.), who donated to a patient with cancer in December 2010, and junior football player John Oppenheimer (Menlo Park, Calif.), who donated to a patient with cancer this past January.

Yale's drives were led by the football team and women's ice hockey team each of the first two years. In 2011, the field hockey team began assisting those two teams with the drive. Members of all three teams are now spreading the word about the need for donors to their classmates, friends and relatives. An awareness campaign on Facebook is underway, and there will also be a study break on Old Campus on Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m. to help promote the drive. On the day of the drive, student-athletes will volunteer at the various stations set up to assist potential donors with the registration process. This year, the New Haven County Medical Association is also providing volunteers to help make the drive a success.

The drive is scheduled to include appearances by Yale's live bulldog mascot, Handsome Dan, and Yale's costumed mascot, Boola. Food will be served.

Mandi's story has been one of the driving forces behind the success of the Yale drives. In September 2010 she required a stem cell transplant that was designed to give her a new immune system using two anonymously donated units of umbilical cord blood (no marrow donor match for a transplant was ever found). A biopsy in December 2010 indicated that she had relapsed, and she passed away at home in Saskatchewan on Apr. 3, 2011.

Mandi's younger brothers, Jaden and Rylan, play ice hockey as well. Jaden is with the NHL's St. Louis Blues and Rylan is in the San Jose Sharks organization.

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.

To join the Be The Match Registry® at the drive, a person must be between the ages of 18 and 44, meet certain health guidelines and be willing to donate to any patient in need. The donor test consists of simple cheek swabs and will only take approximately 15 minutes. Those who are not aged 18 to 44 may still assist by volunteering and/or making a donation to help fund adding more donors to the Be The Match Registry®.

Those who registered at previous drives are already in the registry, so there is no need for them to be registered again. Yale is seeking to add as many NEW potential donors as possible, so those who registered at previous drives are asked to find friends and relatives who have not registered and encourage them to take part in this year's drive.

Yale's drives are part of the "Get in the Game. Save a Life." program, which started in 1992 at Villanova under the guidance of head football coach Andy Talley. That program, involving college athletic teams organizing drives on their campuses, has resulted in tens of thousands of potential donors being tested. Larry Ciotti, an assistant football coach at Yale and former head coach at Hand High School in Madison, Conn., is a friend of Talley's and brought the idea to Yale.

In each of the years from 2009 to 2011, Yale registered more potential donors than any other school in the program. That included 704 registrants in 2009, 921 in 2010 and 869 in 2011.  

There are now 10.5 million people and 185,000 umbilical cord blood units in the Be The Match Registry®, the largest and most racially and ethnically diverse registry of its kind in the world. Since the registry began operations in 1987, it has facilitated more than 55,000 transplants to give patients a second chance at life. It facilitated 5,800 transplants last year.

Those interested in helping with the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive at Yale can contact Larry Ciotti with the Yale football team at larry.ciotti@yale.edu.

The Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive is part of the Yale Day of Service. Visit http://www.yaledayofservice.org/ for more information, or register for the event at http://yaledayofservice.org/node/1274.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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