November 22, 2013

Yale Honored by Be The Match® for Efforts to Help Save Lives

School Receives Partnership Award for Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – For five years, Yale University has been helping save lives through marrow donor registration drives inspired by women's ice hockey player Mandi Schwartz '10 (1988-2011). In recognition of those efforts -- which have found donor matches for at least 20 patients with life-threatening illnesses -- Yale was honored last month at the annual National Marrow Donor Program®/Be The Match Council Meeting in Minneapolis. Mandi's parents, Carol and Rick Schwartz, flew in from Wilcox, Sask., to accept Be The Match's Partnership Award on Yale's behalf.

The Partnership Award is given annually "for collaboration in pursuit of a shared goal that advances the mission of the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match". The award was presented on Oct. 18 in a ceremony at the Hilton Minneapolis Hotel. The Schwartzes accepted the award from Jeffrey Chell, M.D., chief executive officer of Be The Match, and Mandi's mother then addressed the crowd.

"We are very honored to accept this award on behalf of the very dedicated Yale community that worked so very hard to achieve the success that they have been having with their annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive," said Schwartz. "There is no heart in this world that is more touched by this award than mine and my husband Rick's."

The Yale drives started shortly after Mandi was first diagnosed with cancer (acute myeloid leukemia) in December of 2008. She inspired people to sign up as potential marrow donors throughout the U.S. -- and in her native Canada and beyond -- in an effort to save her life. However, she was never able to find a perfect marrow donor match. In September 2010, she had a stem cell transplant (designed to give her a new immune system to help beat the cancer) using two anonymously donated units of umbilical cord blood. A biopsy in December 2010 indicated that she had relapsed, and she passed away in Saskatchewan on Apr. 3, 2011 at the age of 23.

"We certainly cannot re-write Mandi's story, but we can share the love of her friends and family with the world," said Schwartz. "And we hope her story, and this love, helps inspire people to be more aware of the need for donors -- for marrow donors, for cord blood donors and for blood donors."

At Yale, the efforts inspired by Mandi have helped make the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive one of the most successful in the country. In addition to finding at least 20 donor matches, the school has added more than 3,800 potential donors to the Be The Match Registry®.

Three Yale varsity teams organize the drive each year -- field hockey, football and women's ice hockey. This past year, the New Haven County Medical Association also assisted with the drive, and it was a part of the Yale Day of Service initiative.

Yale's drives are part of the "Get in the Game. Save a Life." program started in 1992 at Villanova under the guidance of head football coach Andy Talley. That program, involving college football teams organizing drives on their campuses, has resulted in tens of thousands of potential donors being tested. It included 38 colleges and universities this year.

Larry Ciotti, an assistant football coach at Yale, is a friend of Talley's and brought the idea for the drives to New Haven in 2009. Yale has led the nation in potential life-saving donors added to the Be The Match Registry through the "Get in the Game. Save a Life." campaign in four of the past five years.

Yale's drives have posted remarkable numbers ever since the first one in 2009 yielded more than 700 registrants. The record up until that point had been 630. The Bulldogs eventually shattered their own mark with 921 registrants in 2010.

The registration process is simple -- paperwork and cheek swabs that take approximately 15 minutes. Once an individual has joined the registry there is no need for her or him to join again. Each year, the Bulldogs must find hundreds of new registry members.

Getting large numbers of people to show up is only the first step in the process; getting those people to become donors is the ultimate goal. In that regard, the Bulldogs have been blessed with multiple role models. Lexy Adams '13 of the field hockey team was identified as a match and donated to a patient in need during her sophomore year. John Oppenheimer, a senior on the football team, donated twice earlier this year. Both Adams and Oppenheimer have served on the committee that plans Yale's drives, and they also volunteer on the day of the drive to help encourage others to join the registry.

For Mandi's parents, the ongoing effort to help others in her name is a huge part of her legacy.

"It's a win-win for both the donor and for the recipient," said Schwartz. "The gift of hope and of life is the most treasured gift of all."

The date of Yale's 2014 Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive will be announced early next year.

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

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