An autoimmune disease may have prevented Caroline Hymel from donating bone marrow, but it’s not stopping the second-year medical student from doing her part in raising awareness for the need that exists for patients across the world suffering from blood cancer.
“I was not able to donate and to find out that I couldn’t, I almost felt like I didn’t have anything to give,” Hymel said. “It made me feel mad at myself because not only is my body failing me, but I can’t even help someone else. I have so much to give, but I’m not allowed to. So I said, ‘What can I do to help?’ I decided to spread the word about becoming a donor.”
So Hymel, along with Ashley Dodd, president of the Student Surgical Society, Jennings Dooley, president of the AMA Medical Student Section, and Jasmin Ogundipe, secretary for the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), partnered up to bring Be the Match, a national bone marrow donor program which manages the largest, most diverse bone marrow registry in the world, to the UTHSC campus on November 30.
The event will be the first time UTHSC hosts Be the Match on campus through a collaborative student effort. “A lot of people are on a time crunch. Especially in medical school, time is everything. So just to give the opportunity for someone to walk out of the classroom and sign up is great. Once they are signed up that’s it. Then they’ll get mailed something. That was our main goal — efficiency and ease of access for students, and faculty and staff,” said Hymel, who serves as vice president of the Student Surgical Society.
UTHSC will host the event from 1-4 p.m. in the GEB Lobby (8 S. Dunlap St.) and 12-1 in the Madison Plaza Lobby (920 Madison Ave.) where the medical district community can come to the UTHSC campus to register online to become a bone marrow donor. Those who register will then receive a cotton swab kit by mail to collect sample cells which they will then mail back. The sample is then used to compare matching human leukocyte antigen, or protein markers, of the donor to a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. If a match it made, the registered donor will then be contacted for next steps.
Jordan Booth, on-campus events representative from ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, will share her testimonial about being a donor during a lunchtime Q&A session during the event. Hymel learned about becoming a donor through Booth’s experience when they were sorority sisters at the University of Memphis.
“It’s important to be honest with students who are wanting to donate,” Hymel said. “People have a lot of questions so having Jordan there is such a golden opportunity. It is her mission to get people involved so we are happy to give a platform to share that experience.”
Booth registered to be a donor while interning at St. Jude in 2015. She quickly became a perfect bone marrow match with an aplastic anemic patient in 2016, just two weeks before her 22nd birthday during her senior year in college.
“I’ve always wanted to donate something,” said Booth.
Booth had the option of choosing three cities to make her donation, but ultimately choose Atlanta. “I choose Atlanta so I could go to the Georgia Aquarium after my donation,” she said.
They took her body mass and how much the recipient needed into consideration. Booth was then put under general anesthesia so that incisions could be made in her pelvis to withdraw the bone marrow. “They all made me feel so special and I felt very well cared for,” said Booth.
Altogether the process was under six hours.
“The organization I went through paid for everything, the hotel, travel, absolutely everything,” Booth said.
Booth said that ultimately the patient she donated to did not survive due to a kidney infection, but she has no regrets about being a donor. She has also kept in touch with his widow and has made a friend for life.
“In my personal life I was going through a lot. Being a donor gave me a sense of purpose and something that I could really focus on,” Booth said. “The idea that there is someone out there that has your exact DNA running through them and the idea that there is someone out there that I could help that was sharing a part of me too, was just something really special to me. Every person I’ve met who has been a donor has never regretted it,” Booth said.