Last year, Stonehill first reported that three members of its community had been named potential bone marrow donors through the Be The Match registry. Now nearly one year later, the College is proud to announce that number has moved to four. In the fall Willy Baker, a junior forward on the Skyhawk’s men’s ice hockey team, donated his stem cells to a 62-year old male patient battling non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“My experience was definitely indescribable,” said Baker, who along with his teammates, participated in a bone marrow registry drive on campus last spring. The drive was one of just several organized and run by students at Stonehill over the years.
Guiding students through all the blood and bone marrow registry drives since the very beginning has been Assistant Professor of Biology Sheila Barry.
“I used to work in blood banks and remembered many long nights trying to find blood donors for a patient. I had also known patients who died waiting for a bone marrow match so I decided we should do both. Our first bone marrow registry drive was in 1998 and it was a huge success,” Barry fondly remembers.
Now the hallmark of her Learning Community courses, “Health Promotion &Disease Prevention” and “The Practice of Medicine and You,” blood and bone marrow drives are held each semester.
Baker says he and his teammates were encouraged to take part in the registry drive last year by Delia Phillips, who was taking Barry’s Women's Health Issues course at the time. Phillips is also a member of the volleyball team, which has been very active in promoting the drives on campus for the last few years.
“I think when we all realized how easy and impactful the process was, it was a no brainer,” said Baker. “We went down to the cafeteria, filled out some paper work then had our cheeks swabbed and it was over. To do something so little that could potentially save a life, it made it an easy decision for all of us.”
Nationally, only one in every 500 registry members go on to donate to a patient. Every year, more than 12,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma for which a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor may be their best or only hope of a cure. About 70 percent of patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find an unrelated donor or umbilical cord blood unit.
Baker says he’ll never forget the day he got the call saying he was a match.
“I was playing basketball with a few of my teammates and noticed I had a missed call on my phone with a voicemail.” The message was from a representative from the Rhode Island Blood Center saying that he was a possible match for a 62 year-old man.
“The news was definitely exciting and a little scary for sure. I never thought that out of all the people in the registry I would have been a possible match. I like to think that I’ve accomplished some great things in my life so far but nothing compares to being able to help someone like this,” noted Baker.
In October, Baker successfully donated his stem cells at the Rhode Island Blood Center and filmed his experience as a way to promote the Be The Match registry.
“I started my production company, First Line Films, the summer before entering Stonehill with my friend (and fellow Stonehill student) Oliver Williams ’15 . Normally our focus is sports videos but this was such a powerful experience for me I wanted to document it.”
Hearing about Baker’s experience was equally powerful for Barry, who has indirectly through her work, helped potentially save at least four lives in just one year’s time.
“After I spoke with Willy I cried, just like I did when I heard about our other successes,” said Barry. “I was blown away by his enthusiasm of his experience, and humbled by how it came about due to the Learning Community program. I am so proud of the students that we have had over the years and the way they took charge and recruited donors every fall and spring.”
The next blood and bone marrow registry drive at Stonehill will be held on Monday, March 23rd. For more information, visit here.