Inspired by a dying girl’s blog, DePaul student-athlete Kelly Pickering organized a bone marrow registration drive last fall that drew triple the number of participants expected.
That in itself was an accomplishment. To add to this success, the cross-country standout recently learned that the DePaul bone marrow drive achieved the rare feat of yielding two matches.
“Being able to save the lives of two people—I was ecstatic,” Pickering said. “The chances of getting a match are one in 540, and to have two out of 332 registrants is really awesome.”
Pickering’s involvement in the bone marrow drive began last summer after she came across the blog of a teenager in the United Kingdom. The blog shared with the world the teen’s battle against terminal cancer.
“I’m 15 and I have terminal cancer,” wrote Alice Pyne, the author of the blog “Alice’s Bucket List.” “I’ve created a bucket list because there are so many things I still want to do in my life … some are possible, some will remain a dream.”
Pyne, now 16, has checked off some items from her list, including swimming with sharks, visiting Kenya and meeting the British vocal pop group Take That. Unchecked is her No. 1 item: “To get everyone to join a bone marrow registry.”
Pickering knew she had to organize a registration drive the moment she read those words. “I had never done anything like this before,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody with leukemia. I just thought that if this was my mom or sibling, I’d hope that someone would help us out.”
A large percentage of leukemia patients could be saved with a bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow drives seek to add people to the Be The Match registry. Registrants are given a swab kit to provide a sample of cheek cells that is analyzed. Information about the sample is entered into the official registry, which doctors around the world search to find matches for their patients. If a person is selected as a match, that person may be asked about a donation.
Returning to DePaul last August, Pickering contacted DePaul Athetics community outreach administrator Dave Corzine about organizing a bone marrow registration drive. Pickering’s cross-country teammates gave her unanimous support. Then she and those teammates, as well as student-athletes from women’s track, gave talks in front of their classes to further the cause.
Soon, student-athletes from every team and DePaul staff became involved.
Lisa Ryckbosch of the women’s basketball staff lent her organizational skills. She previously ran a bone marrow drive with women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno on behalf of her best friend, a leukemia patient who died 15 years ago.
Men’s basketball executive assistant Linda Jepsen, who has a personal connection with leukemia, jumped in with both feet. Joe Bertolli, business manager of the Student Center, secured a prominent location for the event.
The donor drive, which ran Oct. 10-13, was an unbelievable success, with 332 people registering.
“What was also so impressive was the buy-in,” said Sam Tan of the Be The Match registry in Chicago. “Most of the time, only a few people take on the cause. When I showed up at DePaul, I didn’t have to do much work. The student-athletes came out in full force, and they educated themselves so they could emphasize to their peers what this was all about.”
It wouldn’t have happened at all without Pickering and her supportive fellow student-athletes. “Nothing would have been done if not for her,” Corzine said. “None of this would have happened without our student-athletes in the Student Center lobby encouraging people to register. I would say that 90 percent of the people signed up because of the student-athletes.”
Pickering said the experience made her realize that one person can make a difference in the world.
“The real heroes in all of this are the people who were a match and have stepped up to be donors,” she said. “I have a classmate who registered four years ago and recently found out he could be a match. This person came to me and asked, ‘What should I do?’ I convinced him to call back and go in for the physical.”
After the bone marrow drive, Pickering emailed Pyne to let her know about DePaul’s support. Pickering proudly wrote to her: “I’m from the United States, and we registered 332 people.”
With more than 25,000 students, DePaul University is the largest Catholic university in the United States and the largest private, nonprofit university in the Midwest. The university offers approximately 275 graduate and undergraduate programs of study on three Chicago campuses and three suburban campuses. Founded in 1898, DePaul remains committed to providing a quality education through personal attention to students from a wide range of backgrounds. For more information, visit www.depaul.edu.