By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
When Livingstone junior Sharquetta Wiggins was only 4, she donated life-saving bone marrow to her twin sister, Marquetta, who suffered from aplastic anemia, a form of cancer.
Chances are her sister wouldn’t have survived the illness without the bone marrow transplant.
Fortunately for Marquetta, her sister was a perfect match; however, African-Americans typically aren’t registered as bone marrow donors.
Ann Ware, Livingstone College’s director of student health services, wants to change that. So on Friday, Ware and David S. Lindsay, executive director of Project Life, are holding a daylong event at Livingstone’s New Trent Gym that’s designed to identify and register volunteers for marrow and tissue donation.
“Project Life: A Day of Healing, A Day of Hope,” runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ware hopes at least 300 people – including Livingstone College students, faculty, staff and members of the Rowan County community – sign up.
“Project Life is a life-saving event that attempts to find donors and possible matches,” Ware said. “We want everyone, no matter their race or gender, to come support this effort, but it is vitally important that African-Americans sign up because when it comes to finding matches for African-Americans, the available pool from which to test is usually low.”
Prospective donors get their cheeks swabbed, their names are added to the national registry and they remain on it until age 60.
Project Life originated at Davidson College 20 years ago, but in 2010 it became a nonprofit organization with the goal of creating 50 chapters on U.S. college campuses, Lindsay said. So far chapters have been formed at UNC Charlotte, Queens University of Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College, Wingate University, Johnson C. Smith University and Livingstone College, Lindsay said.
A chapter will be officially launched at Elon University in early May, he said.
“We especially want to recruit at HBCUs because there is a disproportionate number of Caucasians versus minorities who are in the registry,” Lindsay said. “A good place to start is with young adults on college campuses, whether or not they’re HBCUs, but we do want to give a particular push at places like Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith.”
JCSU students held a bone marrow drive on Monday, and 230 people voluntarily registered, Lindsay said.
Livingstone’s goal is 300, no surprise given how competitive the schools are.
“If Livingstone College reaches or exceeds its goal, that will be at least 300 more chances for patients all over the country to find a match,” Lindsay said. “That’s significant.”
“It’s such a rare opportunity to get a chance to save someone’s life … but it’s one of the most generous and selfless choices you’ll ever make. Just to be on the registry is selfless because it’s almost like you’re raising your hand and saying ‘I’m willing.’ ”
Not sure there’s really a need for people to join the registry?
According to Project Life’s Web site: There are 9 million registered bone marrow donors in the United States; Only two percent of Americans are registered as potential bone marrow donors; There are 15,000 people in the United States living with life-threatening illnesses for whom bone marrow transplantation is their best hope for a cure; There are more than 70 diseases that can be cured with a bone marrow transplant; 3,000 die people annually while waiting for a bone marrow transplant; And only 28 percent of potential bone marrow donors are of diverse racial and ethnic heritage.
Friday’s bone marrow drive should be fun, Ware and Lindsay said. Food will be provided, and there’s also a planned balloon release honoring cancer survivors.
Sharquetta is grateful Livingstone College is organizing a Project Life chapter, and she’s looking forward to Friday’s drive.
“It’s about giving somebody hope and a chance to survive,” said Sharquetta, 22, of Rocky Mount. “When I donated bone marrow to my sister I was really too young to understand what was happening, but now that I’m grown I fully comprehend the significance of the national registry. It’s a fact that most African-Americans don’t sign up for it, but I truly hope we will have a huge turnout on Friday because you never know when you might get a call and be given the chance to save someone’s life.”
By Laurie D. Willis