Search for life-saving donors

By on December 5, 2018

How simple could it be to save someone’s life?

Maybe as simple and painless as a cheek-swab to determine if you could be a bone marrow or stem cell match for a person in need.

Abbie Wiegand, 25, of Lititz, a student in the bachelor of science Nursing program at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in Lancaster, recently coordinated a “Be The Match” donor drive at the college to increase the bone marrow and stem cell donor pool in the United States.

As a young teen, Wiegand learned about the process of bone marrow donation when her mom was discovered to be a match for someone, and donated her bone marrow to a person suffering from a cancer of the blood.

“Ever since she did that, I knew I would sign up and join the registry, too,” Wiegand said.

Abbie Wiegand, 25, of Lititz, speaks with a visitor about what Be The Match can do.

Potential donors have to be at least 18 before they can donate bone marrow, and donors are usually accepted up to age 44, Wiegand said. Wiegand’s parents, Lisa and Thomas Abram, served several years working as Emergency Medical Technicians.

A few years ago, Wiegand’s mom, Lisa, saw a registry drive, signed up, and was later contacted that she was a possible match for someone in need of a bone marrow transfusion. After testing, it was determined that she was a match and she donated some of her bone marrow in an attempt to save the person’s life. That individual did have an increased life span due to the procedure, Wiegand said. Donating bone marrow is a more invasive procedure than donating stem cells, Wiegand said. The donor will be given general anesthesia and the marrow aspirated from the pelvic bone. Generally, it is not without some discomfort.

Stem cell donation can be compared to donating plasma; after venipuncture, a line is inserted, just like a blood transfusion, and stem cells are removed, while red blood cells, platelets, and plasma are returned to the donor, also by way of a vein.

Only about 20 percent of donors will need to do the bone marrow transplant, if contacted as a match. With today’s technology, the more non-invasive procedure of stem cell donation is performed more often, Wiegand said.

Wiegand remembers that her mom was asked if she would do the procedure again, and she answered, “in a heartbeat.” That incident stayed with Wiegand, who was both proud of her mom and impressed that a life could be saved in such an easy manner.

“My parents were both EMTs for a long time, so helping people was always ingrained in me and why I wanted a career in health care,” Wiegand said. As president of the chapter of the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania at her school, Wiegand wanted to help people in a meaningful way and chose the “Be The Match” drive.

Left to right: Kendra Moore, Marie Albertoli, Allison Haskins, and Abbie Wiegand attended a program recently at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences, which coordinated a “Be The Match” donor drive.


“I had looked into it and wanted to do the donor drive because I hadn’t seen anything like it in this area,” Wiegand said. “Maybe that’s because people don’t know there’s a huge need for it.”
Sponsored by the Student Nurses’ Association, the drive was held inside the school. The Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences is a private, accredited, four-year college focusing on the field of health care.

The donor pool is so limited that it’s rare to find a match; only a one in 430 chance currently exists, Wiegand said.

“Some people say, ‘well, if it’s so difficult to find a match, why should I bother,’ but that’s a backward way of looking at it,” Wiegand said. “Suppose you were that match and you’re not there?”
Just give someone a chance by taking a chance yourself, Wiegand said.

“To join the registry (of potential donors) initially all you do is fill out a medical questionnaire, including your genetic background,” Wiegand said. Caucasians have a better chance of finding a donor match simply because there are more Caucasians in the pool, she said.

“So we’re looking for a more diverse population,” Wiegand said.

People who sign up at the “Be The Match” event will have an account created online and will be mailed two cheek swabs. After doing a 10-second cheek swab, the swabs are mailed back.
The third part of the process is for volunteers to “stay committed,” by donating stem cells or bone marrow if they are identified as a match for someone who needs them. If a potential donor is identified as a match, he or she will be informed on the location for the procedure. More than 150 donor locations are located throughout the country, Wiegand said.

“I thought the drive was great and we’re planning to do it again, either in the spring, or next fall, when new students arrive,” Wiegand said. “It was a great experience.” The need for donors is so great that all expenses are paid and everything is taken care of for the donor.

That includes hotel and transportation costs, missed salary during the procedure time, and even the cost of child care or pet care, she said.
“It is very donor-friendly,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand’s “Be The Match” drive was a first for her, but she’ll probably be doing more in her mission to increase the donor pool to help those with serious disease.

“For the first time, we did great, with 38 people joining at our table,” Wiegand said. “More people took the information home, to read over it and make sure it was for them.

“We want people to be sure it’s something they are serious about before they join,” she said. Not every stem cell or bone marrow transfusion will be successful, but people are still getting an extra chance at beating a disease.

“I wanted to do this drive to increase awareness; you might be someone’s only match,” Wiegand said. “We need people to know about the need for donors, so put it on social media, tell classmates, tell your family and friends. You could be someone’s cure.”

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Marylouise Sholly is a correspondent for The Lititz Record Express. 

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