The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW Red Cross Blood Drive raises support for bone marrow transplants

3 min read
A man sits in a chair as his blood is drawn by another man wearing gloves.

With the help of students and faculty, the bone marrow drive was supported along with the Red Cross Organization blood drive. | Abbey Magnet, The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

The Red Cross Student Organization’s regular blood drive had a new component this month—those who attended were also able to register to donate bone marrow.

This new opportunity was spearheaded by mathematics Professor Suzanne Sumner, whose history of donating bone marrow goes back decades. Thirty years ago, Sumner donated bone marrow to a 2-year-old with leukemia who she had never met. 

“I have always wanted to make a difference in others’ lives, which is why I love teaching and working with students,” Suzanne said. “So when I was asked to register for the bone marrow registry at a Red Cross blood drive in graduate school, I immediately signed up.” 

But the cause became more personal for her when her cousin, Kelsey Sumner, was recently diagnosed with aplastic anemia — a rare condition where the body’s bone marrow stops producing enough blood cells, also known as “bone marrow failure,” according to the NIH. Kelsey now needs a stem cell transplant, meaning she needs a donor whose stem cells are a close enough match to her own.

Finding a match can be extremely difficult, and “70% of people don’t have a fully matched donor in their family,” according to the National Marrow Donor Program. There’s a one-in-four chance that a person’s biological sibling will be a match for them, but it’s “very unlikely” that extended family members will be a match, the NMDP says. 

“Knowing how difficult a bone marrow transplant is for the recipient, I wanted to help however I could,” Suzanne said.

With help from other students and faculty, Suzanne organized the bone marrow registry opportunity in conjunction with the Red Cross Student Organization’s blood drive on April 24.

“Holding a bone marrow drive on campus seemed like a promising response,” Suzanne said. “The NMDP particularly seeks donors between the ages of 18 and 40 and also donors representing a broad range of minority groups, and UMW is perfect for those demographics.”

Over 40 blood donors attended the drive and were asked if they wanted to join the NMDP registry in an effort to help find Kelsey a match. If they said yes, a volunteer then swabbed the inside of their cheek and checked for potential matches through the registry. People could also have a self-collection kit mailed to them to complete later.

Members of the Pre-Health Club and Red Cross Student Organization volunteered to perform the cheek swabs and help people join the registry.

“The entire [screening] process only takes around 10 minutes, and you never know if you’re the only person to sign up who can help someone and even save their life,” said senior biomedical sciences major Olivia Pierce, the social media manager for the Red Cross Student Organization.

Some of Suzanne’s students also volunteered after learning about her cousin’s diagnosis.

“I saw Kelsey’s story on one of the fliers sent to PreHealth Society and knew I wanted to help,” said junior biomedical sciences major Tori Croley. “I actually had just joined the National Donor Registry a few weeks prior to this, because Dr. Wynn told us about the website ‘Be the Match’ and told us how it could change people’s lives.”

Suzanne described the bone marrow retrieval process as fairly straightforward, with the most tedious part being the rigorous testing beforehand to ensure that the match was perfect and that the blood and bone marrow were safe for the recipient. 

“The minor discomfort I felt was nothing compared to the promise of life for the recipient,” Suzanne said. 

Kelsey, an epidemiologist at the CDC, previously served on active duty and has been deployed to multiple countries to prevent and resolve infectious disease outbreaks.

“Kelsey is dedicated to helping others, and she has amazing strength and courage for the missions she conducted for the CDC,” said Suzanne.

Fliers placed around campus share Kelsey’s story and a QR code to the NMDP donor page. Her story has even reached people across the world. 

“I am eternally grateful to the UMW Community for helping with this bone marrow drive,” Suzanne said. “… My current and former students as far away as Australia have been signing up for the NMDP and Gift of Life bone marrow registries, which is truly heartwarming.”