Former, current Lakers encourage marrow donations through Gift of Life


Courtesy to Gift of Life

Audrey Whitaker, Staff Reporter

If you had the chance to save a stranger’s life through one simple procedure, would you do it? Many students have participated in a blood drive or signed up for the organ donor registry when they got their license, but how many could be the match for someone with blood cancer? 

Grand Valley State University alumna Jocelyn Messer first became interested in bone marrow and stem cell donation when another student at her high school was searing for a match after being diagnosed with leukemia.

At the time, Messer was too young to join any donor registries. Today, however, after four years of volunteer work and internships with Gift of Life (GoL), Messer works full time as a recruitment specialist and intern mentor.

“That just pushed me to want to do more to help people find their matches like he did, because there’s a lot of people that don’t have that chance,” Messer said. “That’s the inspiration behind it. Plus just helping people, in general, is a very fun and good thing to do.”

As a GVSU student, Messer said she was a member of the GVSU GoL club when she was on campus. Gabrielle Garlicki, a current GVSU student, said that she joined the club because it connected with her studies.

“I got into Gift of Life because I am studying pre-med and my end goal is to be a pediatric oncologist,” Garlicki said. “I think it’s super cool to kind of see the non-medical side of how things like this happen, so it’s really kind of driving me in my education to go forward along with it.”

Messer said that one goal of Gift of Life is to educate and dispel misconceptions regarding bone marrow and stem cell donation. Garlicki said that these misconceptions can make recruiting donors difficult. 

“We have about 1,800 people at Grand Valley that have registered in the last couple years, I know that me and Jocelyn added around 500 people last year alone,” Garlicki said, “A lot of people are definitely scared of the needles and then we also have to explain that they put you under anesthesia when you’re donating actual marrow, which is only about 20% of the time, and then they don’t pull from your spine or anything so it’s a pretty safe procedure.”

Messer said that unlike blood or organ donation, bone marrow and stem cell matches are made based on genetic factors. This makes diversity an important part of Gift of Life’s mission, Garlicki said.

“I really think this is super crucial for Grand Valley because we get students from everywhere that come from all different backgrounds,” Garlicki said. “55% of Latinos, 60% of Asian Americans 75% of African Americans and 75% of multiracial individuals cannot find a donor. We’re really trying to expand to all different ethnicities and communities so that way everyone has an equal chance of finding a matching donor.”

Typically, Gift of Life hosts on-campus drives and events encouraging students to join the registry and become donors. Due to COVID-19, swap test kits are being sent directly to those who register, Garlicki said.

“We’re having people download the app, fill out a survey and have the swab kits sent to them, super easy and simple,” Garlicki said. “You fill out a survey, then swab the four corners of your cheeks for about five to 10 seconds, put it directly back in the envelope and send it in.”

Garlicki said that being a donor and volunteering is a rewarding experience because it is not only an opportunity to save a life, but to build a community at GVSU.

“There’s a lot of different ways that people have been involved with Gift of Life, and I think it brings a really strong sense of community to the school and builds a network of people who can all relate to each other about being a donor or knowing someone in need of a transplant,” said Garlicki.