Biology Student’s Blood Stem Cells Donation Helped Save a Life

A Prairie View A&M University senior is currently making it her mission to increase awareness of the need for bone marrow and blood stem cell donations at historically black colleges and universities such as PVAMU.

Lauren Ashley Ward, senior biology major, donated blood stem cells last April, which helped to save the life of a one-year-old boy. This inspired her to apply for an internship at Be the Match (which is recognized as the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world) as well as become the founding president of PVAMU’s Be the Match On Campus chapter.

In her marketing internship position, Ward works as an ambassador for PVAMU to increase the number of people on the registry from the university. One driving factor for her work is the fact that there’s a significant disparity that exists on the bone marrow/blood stem cell registry. Currently, only 4 percent of the 19 million prospective donors on the Be The Match registry are African American. These low rates have resulted in African American patients with blood cancers and diseases in need of a donor having only a 23 percent chance of finding a match on the registry, compared to a 77 percent chance for white patients.

“As a historically black university, the school is a target area to increase the amount of African American people on the registry, as the number of them is significantly lower than any other ethnicity,” Ward said. “Starting a campaign at historically black colleges is where I come in and where I can advertise and reach this target population on a broad level. Although I only helped one person with my donation, I know that my work in increasing awareness of this need can ultimately help thousands of people.”

One main focus of Ward’s campaign is to clarify misconceptions about the blood stem cell and bone marrow donation process.

“Donating stem cells really isn’t much different from donating blood or plasma,” she said. “It takes a little longer, but these cells come out of your blood, so the procedure donors directly experience is very similar. Donating bone marrow, meanwhile, is a small procedure in which you are put to sleep and wake up within approximately an hour. Instead of having a needle placed in a vein like it is for a blood draw or donation, it’s put in your pelvic bone. This might sound painful, but it really doesn’t result in much more than a bit of soreness for a few days, since you’re not awake while it’s being done. You’ll be able to go back to work or school; you just might not be able to do any intense workouts during those few days of recovery.”

Finally, Ward ultimately wants to increase the number of people who follow through with their commitment to donating and possibly saving a life.

“I don’t want people to just register; I want the people who register to actually follow through and donate when they get a call asking them to do so, which is a pretty common hurdle for the organization,” she said. “I truly believe that increasing awareness will get people to understand why this cause is so important, and once they do, it will be no question for them to follow through on actually donating.”

For more information or to join the registry, visit Be The Match.

By Emilia Benton