Approximately every three minutes one person in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
And for most, a blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant from a perfect stranger is their only hope.
Chances of finding a match are much harder for racial minorities, especially African Americans, whose donor pool is exceptionally small because bone marrow compatibility is closely linked with race. Currently only 4% of Americans on the international registry are Black, and the percentages are similarly out of proportion for others, according to statistics provided by Gift of Life, a nonprofit that finds donors for bone marrow and stem cell transplants.
Lensa Jeudy, a Gift of Life community engagement coordinator, is working to change those numbers by seeking donors at large, diverse college campuses. With help from campus ambassador interns, she sets up donor registration tables, where passersby can enter the registry in a matter of minutes by swabbing their cheeks and completing an online medical questionnaire.
“I was so excited to come to UT because it is a gold mine of diversity,” Jeudy says. “We want to change those statistics so we can give hope to people—and to educate others about their ability to save lives.”
Last September, she coordinated with the Center for Community Engagement to participate in the big fall volunteer fair. Throughout the day, her UT student ambassadors—many of whom are members of Alpha Phi Omega—entered nearly 100 potential donors into the registry.
Although Jeudy expected to add an extra zero to that number on such a large college campus, she soon learned that her efforts were not in vain.
“I’ll never forget the day when I arrived at the office and all my coworkers were acting funny.” Jeudy says. “When I asked them what was going on, they all got up and started cheering because they were just informed that I found a match for a three-month-old baby.”
Only time will tell if the potential donor agrees to the outpatient medical procedure—which is entirely paid for by Gift of Life. However, just finding a match—a veritable needle in a haystack—for a non-white infant is a miracle all in itself.
Jeudy is especially grateful for the help she received from Suchitra Gururaj, assistant vice president for community engagement. With her guidance, Jeudy learned about the volunteer fair—which brings in dozens of nonprofits to the West Mall every year. She also learned how to access the GivePulse website, a volunteer management system for nonprofits.
“Suchitra was so helpful, Jeudy says. “Anytime I needed her, she emailed me back right away with great feedback. You don’t’ get that kind of service at many places, and that’s when I realized that people in Texas are really amazing.”
In the future, Jeudy plans to return to the Forty Acres to set up more donor registration tables at volunteer fairs and athletic events, where she can increase her chances of finding more perfect matches. She, too, entered the registry knowing that she could be that miracle for a mixed-race patient.
“My older sister passed away from leukemia, and I didn’t know much about marrow registry because she kept quiet about her illness and didn’t seek a donor,” says Jeudy, who is Haitian American. “That’s my motivation to do this work every day. We need to educate people about marrow transplants and give them hope.”