Robin Roberts' health struggle inspire hundreds to donate bone marrow

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A quick questionnaire, a few cheek swabs and these students and staff at Southeastern Louisiana University have taken the first steps to save lives.

"Be the match is a nonprofit organization. We actually help people get bone marrow transplants of unrelated donors," explained Natalie Rowe of Be the Match. "The purpose of a bone marrow transplant is to cure people of blood cancers such as Leukemia, and so many other disorders."

Before Good Morning America, Robin Roberts was a star on the basketball court at Southeastern.

So, when she announced she needed a bone marrow transplant to treat a blood disease, something for which donors are scarce, her alma mater jumped at the chance to help.

Roberts is now well on her way to a full recovery, but the students are still holding bone marrow registry drives to boost the number of potential donors.

The first part is easy, fill out a health form and do a swab.  Then you wait, sometimes for years, for a match to be made.

However, the actual donation process often scares away potential donors.

"The number one misconception is that it's a painful process and I want people to know that it's not painful. It's a simple procedure that can save the life of someone else," said Rowe.

The donations are done one of two ways.  The first and most common is a peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) donation.  That is a process that is very similar to plasma donation in which the stem cells are harvested from the blood.  It usually takes a few hours. 
The second type of procedure is harvesting actual bone marrow.  According to the Be the Match website, that is a one day outpatient surgical procedure in which doctors use a needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone.

Student Whitney Christy helped organize the Swabbin' for Robin drive.  Like Roberts, Christy's father received a bone marrow transplant from a sibling.

"That is a rare case," explained Christy. "A lot of people don't get that option, which is why we have Be the Match."

Be the Match registry numbers have tripled since Roberts shared her story nationwide, but organizers want those signing up to know that their commitment to donate isn't to be taken lightly.

"Don't do it on a whim. It's really important to that family if you register and you're a match," said Christy.

For more information on joining the register or hosting a drive, click here.

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