Olympic Gold Medalist Teams With ESU Students to Recruit Bone Marrow Donors

August 28, 2016

Every three minutes an American is diagnosed with a malignancy that attacks the blood, bone marrow or lymphatic system. That equals 480 people every day. 

Students at Emporia State University want to increase these patients’ chances of receiving a second chance of life through a bone marrow transplant by helping people register as donors. They have paired up with Olympic gold medalist Earl Young and DKMS to offer two days of registry events in Emporia on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.

“We want to add 500 people to the DKMS registry,” said senior Shayla Cotman, an accounting major from Wichita who also is a track and volleyball student-athlete.

Cotman is excited to work with Young, who won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome running the second leg of the 4x400-meter relay. After the Olympics, Young had a successful business career. Then in 2011, he visited his doctor with a runny nose and a cough that wouldn’t stop.

Tests showed Young had acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. In his 70s, Young found himself needing a bone marrow transplant. What Young didn’t know is that a week after his diagnosis, a 44-year-old woman named Christine Waag chose to register as a donor during a DKMS event in her hometown of Offenburg, Germany. Three months later, Waag received the call that her marrow was needed.

The resulting donation gave Young a second chance at life and a new cause — helping others in need find their matching marrow donors by increasing those who register.

Although Cotman was drawn to the Emporia project by her respect for a fellow athlete, ESU senior biology major Chris Alderman of Emporia was drawn to the cancer side of the cause. For the past three years, Alderman has been conducting research to make chemotherapy more effective and less traumatic for cancer patients. Alderman’s inspiration came from watching his grandfather battle cancer along with the complications of chemotherapy.

Alderman, who is president of ESU’s Honors Biology Club, and Cotman, who is secretary of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, both quickly agreed to organize Young’s visit to campus and work with DKMS on the registry events. They have enlisted students from the Biology Club, SAAC and the nursing program to swab potential donors, who must be between the ages of 18 and 55. Their information is kept on the registry until age 61.

“College students are ideal candidates for the registry because they have decades of eligibility as donors,” said Alderman.

Five donor registry events are planned during Young’s two days in Emporia:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 31
    • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Union, Emporia State University; and
    • 6 to 8 p.m., during Hornet Rally at Welch Stadium, Emporia State University.
  • Thursday, Sept. 1
    • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Union, Emporia State University;
    • 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flint Hills Technical College, Emporia; and
    • 6 p.m. until end of game, during the ESU football game at Welch Stadium, Emporia State University

Young also will participate in a Conversation with ESU President Allison Garrett at 3 p.m., Sept. 1, in the Preston Room of ESU’s Memorial Union. During this public event, Young will discuss his Olympic competition, his career as an international businessman and his passion to add potential donors to the bone marrow registry.


Additional information

Who can be a donor?

If you are age 18 to 55 in good overall health, registering for the first time, and you are not a member of the U.S. military or active in the Reserves or ROTC, you can register. More specific information is available at the registration events.


Are there special needs?

Patients are more likely to match donors who share their ancestry. Patients with more diverse backgrounds, including African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, tend to have more diverse tissue type characteristics, making it difficult to find a match. Currently on the national registry, only 10 percent of donors are Hispanic or Latino, 7 percent are African-American and 7 percent are Asian.


How do I register?

After determining that you are eligible and willing to register, you will fill out a registration form then use two sterile swabs to swab your cheeks. These will be sealed and sent away for processing.


What if I don’t qualify for the registry?

There is still a great need for donations to pay to process the swabs. DKMS does not charge donors to process their registration kits. Processing costs $65 per kit. Donations will be accepted at the registration tables or you can donate online at www.DKMS.org.


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