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Student’s bone marrow donation initiates CMU campaign

(Megan Pacer/ Staff Reporter)

(Megan Pacer/ Staff Reporter)

GRAND RAPIDS — Ever since she was told she was a match to donate bone marrow and could save a life, Jennifer Eskridge hasn’t second guessed her decision.

“I never had a doubt that I would not do it,” the Lapeer sophomore said. Eskridge went on to discuss the importance of bone marrow donation as she made the snowy drive from Mount Pleasant to Grand Rapids on March 1 for her initial round of injections prior to donating. “How do you say ‘yes or no’ to saving somebody else’s life?”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 20,000 people each year are in need of bone marrow or some other type of blood cell transplant. However, only about one in 540 people on the Be The Match registry end up being an eligible match to someone in need.

Eskridge’s journey began when a member of her church died in 2011 and a blood drive was held in his honor. The option to sign up for the Be The Match registry was also offered, and Eskridge saw no reason not to sign up the next year when she was unable to give blood.

“I found out I was a confirmed match on Feb. 10,” Eskridge said. “It’s been a little overwhelming, but I’m just trying to take it one step at a time.”

On March 5, Eskridge donated at the Michigan Blood in Grand Rapids for her 47-year-old male match.

As with all donations made through the national Be The Match registry, Eskridge’s match must remain anonymous for the first year after the donation. After that, each center differs on levels of communication. Some allow anonymous updates, while others permit direct visits.

The entire donation of peripheral blood stem cells – the second of two options when donating through Be The Match – took between three and four hours, an uncommonly fast donation time. Eskridge was put up in a nearby hotel the night before her donation, free of charge.

According to Stem Cell Program Manager Barbara Hile, the average donation time typically lasts around six hours, depending on the donor’s weight and the amount of medication in his or her system. Eskridge received several rounds of injections in the days leading up to her donation that worked to multiply her white blood cell count and push those cells out of her bones and into her peripheral blood stream for collection.

Eskridge’s cell count on the day of donation was high, meaning her body accepted the medicine well. Her speedy donation was just what the doctor ordered.

“(The cells) leave the building as soon as she’s done,” Hile said. “The goal is to get those cells into the patient as soon as possible.”

Raising awareness

Hile, who is also a Central Michigan University alumna, plans to use Eskridge’s success as a gateway to raise awareness and achieve higher registry numbers on campus. While registry drives have been sporadic over the last few years, Hile hopes to establish a stable schedule of repeated events to drum up attention for Be The Match at CMU.

The next drive will be held on April 14 at the Student Activity Center and in the Health Professions Building. Eskridge, who has the chance to host her own drive Wednesday, will be helping people register on the day of the campus drive, hosting a Q&A session and speaking to a group of pre-med students.

“The registry simply does not have enough people right now,” Eskridge said. “Students just aren’t taking advantage of it.”

Eskridge’s mother, Karen Eskridge, was present throughout her entire donation, and is also in full support of having an established registry process at CMU. She also said she wished she could have joined her daughter in registering to donate.

“I’m proud of her,” Karen Eskridge said. “One person’s actions can change things for everybody.”

Energy was high on the morning of Jennifer Eskridge’s donation, despite the early morning hour.

Karen Eskridge, along with Hile and a nurse were all squeezed into the cramped donation room with Jennifer, joking and laughing when the collection began. Also maneuvering around tables, chairs and whirring machines was coordinator Cheryl Adams, who is responsible for organizing donations in eight states.

“This is rare,” Adams said. “I don’t usually get to meet my donors.”

After she was tested and found to be a match, Jennifer was assigned to Adams, who oversaw the entire process from start to finish. She is in charge of coordinating blood tests, chemical screenings, injections and the follow-up that Jennifer will be required to do in the wake of her donation.

Other than some soreness, Jennifer experienced little to no pain or complications. Not one to draw unnecessary attention, she now finds herself the poster child of a movement at CMU to bring bone marrow registry back to a top priority.

“There’s just so much more Central could be doing,” she said. “Mainly I want to take this amazing experience and try to reach as many people as possible.”

5 Comments

  1. Janet Eskridge says:

    I’m very proud of my niece,Jennifer.She is absolutely an amazing young lady and I couldn’t be more of her.

  2. Karen Dupont says:

    Jennifer is an extraordinary young lady, one that her community and church a very proud of. I have known her since she was a child, and I am personally very proud of her.
    My own family has been the recipients of organ donation when my nephew received a set of lungs in June 2011.
    This selfless act of random kindness is something a family cannot repay without the feelings of true love and tears.
    Congrats Jennifer! Way to go

  3. Hi Megan!
    This is a great article! I registered for “Be the Match” (BtM) 4 years ago when a co-worker was in need of a bone marrow transplant. Now, it’s my sister who needs the transplant. So my 3 siblings are testing to see if they’re matches. There’s a 1-in-4 chance that sibs will match.

    All 3 of my siblings have to pay between $200-$300 each just to do this first match test (a cotton swab brushed inside your mouth) that BtM does in their drives. The problem is that BtM takes about 6-8 weeks to process all of the blood drive donor samples they receive. As in my sister’s case, the doctors need a 2-3 week turnaround. The info for my match results took less than 2 hours for “Be the Match” to fax to me and then I faxed it to my sister’s doctors :)

    You never know when a friend or family member… or another soul out there… will become a person in need. It’s great to be in the registry and ready to go.

    Be the Match and Be Prepared!

    Thanks for this article. It came at the precise time all of us in our family wondered what to expect.

  4. Megan,

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing Jennifer’s story and spreading the word about Be the Match and the need for bone marrow donors!

    This organization is so dear to my heart because it saved my life. I was diagnosed with MDS fall of 2012 and received my bone marrow transplant on January 21, 2013. I am now doing very well thanks to a complete stranger who made the decision to sign up and eventually called to save a life.

    Thank you again for spreading the word and awareness! And thank you Jennifer for being a wonderful donor to someone in need!
    I hope the registry drive is a success!

  5. Editor '08 says:

    Jennifer donated at Michigan Blood, not Michigan Community Blood Center. The organization has changed it’s name to Michigan Blood years ago…

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