Bulldogs Focus on Grass-Roots Efforts to Raise Awareness, Locate Donors
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – As news of Mandi Schwartz' courageous battle with cancer continues to spread, offers to help are now coming in from around the world. "Become Mandi's Hero", the campaign to find her the life-saving donors she needs, has been featured on ABC News and ESPN and written about in the New York Times and dozens of other newspapers. The "Become Mandi's Hero" group on Facebook has more than 8,000 members. All told, millions of people have heard about Mandi's story in one way or another. Yet the key to the campaign's success may lie in the grass-roots approach taken by one small group in particular -- her Yale women's ice hockey teammates.
Though they are now scattered throughout the world for the summer, Mandi's Yale teammates have coordinated their efforts to act immediately because of the urgency of the situation. Mandi, who is battling acute myeloid leukemia for the second time in less than two years, must have a stem cell transplant within the next 30-45 days. Her doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle will need as many donor options as possible in order to find the appropriate genetic matches for the transplant to be successful. Those matches could come from umbilical cord blood donors or bone marrow donors.
A number of Mandi's teammates are now focused on a promising way of finding donors who are most likely be matches: locating women about to give birth who are of either German, Russian or Ukrainian descent. Because of Mandi's heritage, those are the groups most likely to match her genetically. The process of donating umbilical cord blood is free and harmless to both the mother and the baby.
So with help from Brennan Turner '09, a former Yale men's hockey player who is a close friend of the Schwartz family, the Bulldogs have put together a game plan for finding these types of donors. They started by identifying the areas of the United States with the highest concentration of residents whose heritage matches Mandi's: German, Russian or Ukrainian. Each area has been assigned to a member of the women's ice hockey team. These areas are spread throughout the country, and many team members are also focusing on their hometowns and areas where they are for the summer.
In their assigned areas, the Bulldogs' approach is two-fold. One, they contact obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) with a request to display a postcard brochure with information about Mandi and Become Mandi's Hero. And two, they contact the media in that area to suggest stories that will raise awareness in the general population about the need for donors.
The Bulldogs are finding high levels of cooperation from the OB/GYNs in terms of distributing the postcards to pregnant women, and the local media are also extremely interested in telling Mandi's story. Anyone interested in helping Mandi is encouraged to follow the same steps the Yale players have been taking: contact local OB/GYNs and the media.
In some cases the Bulldogs are dealing with newspapers near their hometowns; rising senior goalie Jackee Snikeris of Downingtown, Pa., spoke with a reporter from the nearby Bucks Country newspaper for an extensive story about the role of social media in the search for donors. In other cases, Yale players are e-mailing and calling places far from home. Last week Berit Johnson '10, a Minnesota native, was quoted in a story about Mandi in a New Jersey newspaper, and rising junior forward Aleca Hughes, who lives in Massachusetts, was quoted in the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune.
Hughes is also contacting major parenting and pregnancy magazines, recognizing the role they will play in reaching a key audience: expectant moms who are potential umbilical cord donors. Even some recent alums have gotten involved in helping get the Become Mandi's Hero information in front of pregnant women. Mandi's postcard brochures were distributed at the World's Largest Baby Shower in Atlanta by Jenna Spring '07. A graduate student at Emory, Spring cut short a trip and was on hand at the event to distribute the postcards. Bulldog fans may remember Spring as one of the Bulldogs' top scorers -- she's tied for seventh on Yale's career goals list -- but her trip to Atlanta put her in the lead in a much more important category: donors enrolled. At last count seven women had signed up thanks to her efforts.
Another Yale women's hockey alum, Lauren Monahan '94, has given the Bulldogs some further reach into the parenting crowd. Monahan owns a baby products company, UPPAbaby, based in Massachusetts. "Become Mandi's Hero" is now featured prominently on the company's website, and UPPAbaby has partnered with its retailers to offer expectant parents a credit for donating their umbilical cord blood to "Become Mandi's Hero."
In addition to seeking out cord blood donors, the Bulldogs have also been working on getting potential bone marrow donors tested. The drives that the women's hockey team held with the Yale football team each of the past two springs in New Haven brought in more than 1,600 potential donors, and that number has now been doubled through additional drives over the past few weeks. Turner has organized a series of drives throughout Canada in conjunction with CBC's PlayOn! 4on4 street hockey tournaments. Many of Mandi's Yale teammates have worked at those tournament drives as volunteers, and along with Turner they have been able to generate a large amount of coverage for Become Mandi's Hero in the Canadian media. Turner has done numerous interviews, and rising sophomore forward Jen Matichuk of St. Albert, Alta., was quoted in the Saint City News in a story prior to a bone marrow donor testing drive she volunteered for.
Fundraising is also a key part of the "Become Mandi's Hero" efforts, and that has been another area of focus for her teammates. At the upcoming Women's Chowder Cup tournament in Massachusetts, Hughes' team will be scoring "Goals for Mandi", with donors pledging money for each goal the team scores to "Become Mandi's Hero".
In addition to all of their efforts to raise money and enlist donors, the Bulldogs are also responsible for some subtle but effective means of raising awareness as well. Former goalie Shivon Zilis '08 probably wasn't expecting to start a trend when she changed her Facebook profile photo to a "Become Mandi's Hero" postcard showing Mandi playing for Yale. But when Dr. Collins spotted it he encouraged all of Mandi's other supporters on-line to change their profile photos as a way to further raise awareness and show support.
The efforts that those who have played with her at Yale have made on her behalf speaks to the impact Mandi has had on them. Johnson summed that sentiment up in a letter that she has been e-mailing to those that she is asking for support from:
"Speaking from personal experience, Mandi is a kind, compassionate, and inspirational person that this world cannot afford to lose. Anything you can do to help would be greatly appreciated."
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity