PC to Host Bone Marrow Registration Drive
Providence, R.I. — Patrick A. Lynch ’03 has achieved great things: he graduated from Providence College and law school, earned an M.B.A., and married his wife.
But none of that would have been possible without the help of a stranger in Minnesota. In 1998, she donated the bone marrow that allowed him to survive leukemia.
“I live a full life,” Lynch said. “If it wasn’t for Diane, my donor, I would never be able to call myself a PC alum.”
Now Lynch, who serves on the Board of Governors of the PC National Alumni Association, is helping promote a bone marrow registration drive in the lower level of the Slavin Center that students, faculty, staff, and the general public are encouraged to attend.
The drive, which will be held from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, is sponsored by student groups that include the Student Alumni Association; AED, the pre-med honor society; Colleges Against Cancer; Simply Healthy; Women’s Soccer; Men’s Soccer; the Healthcare Club; the Balfour Office for Multicultural Activities; Student Congress; and the Friars Club.
The idea for the event originated with Christine Griffin ’91, who started the Michael H. Flanagan Foundation in memory of her brother, who was diagnosed with leukemia during his sophomore year at PC in 1998.
Griffin has a strong family connection to the College; her father, Michael L. Flanagan ’67, and her husband, Stephen J. Griffin ’88, are graduates, as well as other relatives.
She said that faculty and staff at PC were wonderful to her brother while he was in treatment at a Providence hospital. Professors and priests visited him and, when he was on crutches, gave him a handicapped parking pass so he could drive to classes.
Searching for a match
Although none of his family members was a bone marrow match, Flanagan had two transplants thanks to a donor in Germany. Unfortunately, neither was successful and the cancer returned. Rev. Mark D. Nowel, O.P., associate professor of biology and now dean of undergraduate and graduate studies, ultimately presented a diploma to him in the hospital in 2001.
Recently, after the 10th anniversary of both her brother’s death and the formation of the Barrington, R.I.-based foundation, Griffin reached out to the Office of Alumni Relations to organize an event to get more people into the bone marrow registry.
The City of Providence will issue a proclamation declaring April 19 “Be the Match Day,” emphasizing the need for minority registrants.
Annually, 10,000 people suffering from any of 72 blood diseases search the Be The Match Registry, which is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, in the hopes of finding a donor. But only five out of 10 of the people who need bone marrow transplants receive them, according to the registry. More than two-thirds of those in need can’t identify a matching donor within their family.
Griffin only joined the registry herself within the last few years. “The procedure isn’t as scary as it used to be,” she said.
Most people expect that entering the registry and marrow donation will be an extremely invasive experience. But registration only requires rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of your cheek.
Donors may be able to contribute marrow through a peripheral blood stem cell donation. The procedure is similar to donating blood, although it takes longer — donors would take a drug for five days to increase the number of stem cells in their bloodstream, and then the cells are removed using a machine. Doctors also could use a needle to extract liquid marrow from the pelvic bone, a surgical procedure conducted under general anesthesia.
Either way, donors rarely face long-term side effects, although some experience flu-like symptoms as a result of the drug, or some soreness in their lower back for up to one or two weeks. Most people return to their usual routine within several days.
“It’s not like a heart transplant or liver transplant, where they have to open up your body and dig something out,” Lynch said.
The registry is making an effort to reach out to colleges, because students are healthy, Griffin said. They also seek out racial and ethnic minorities, which represent only 28 percent of registry members.
She was thrilled that so many student groups were involved in the effort.
“All these different clubs, they’re an energetic bunch of college kids that are doing something that’s an easy way to give of themselves,” she said.
Health insurance in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire will cover the cost of the initial testing fees to add someone to the registry. If you match a patient, the patient’s insurance covers all costs. The Be The Match Registry will pay travel costs if necessary.
“The only reason not to do it is if you think it’s something it’s not,” Lynch said. “The only barrier is yourself.”
He was first diagnosed with leukemia as a 15-year-old sophomore at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I. He spent more than two years suffering through chemotherapy and spinal taps and other medical procedures. Then, three months into his senior year, he had a relapse.
“The only option was bone marrow,” he said. And Lynch, who was adopted at 5 months old, couldn’t turn to a relative for help. But because there are more Caucasians in the database, it only took two months to identify a donor, who agreed to participate.
She made the donation near her home and was back at work within a week, Lynch said.
Thankfully, the transplant was successful. Lynch said he has been blessed with good health since then — able to run, work out, and even work a full day as a corporate health care lawyer. He doesn’t even take any medications.
Lynch and his donor spoke by phone a year after the transplant, and he asked how he could thank her for such an incredible gift. She said she wanted only one thing.
A decade later, he was able to fulfill her wish — to be a guest at his wedding.
— Liz F. Kay