Gift of Life hosts “Swab-A-Thon” event to help those in need


Courtesy / Gift of Life GVSU

Chloe Schram, Staff Writer

On Feb. 22 and 23, Gift of Life Marrow Registry held the first event of its winter Swab-A-Thon event in Kirkhof Center located on the Grand Valley State University Allendale campus. The next event will take place at the same location on Feb. 27 and 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gift of Life aims to cure blood cancer through cellular therapy.

The organization works with the public to get others involved in the fight to cure blood cancer. According to Gift of Life, getting swabbed can help the organization find a match for patients in need of stem cell and marrow donations and in turn, save a life. 

Recruitment Specialist at Gift of Life Marrow Registry, GVSU alumna Jocelyn Messer, said the work of Gift of Life can make a real impact. 

“Gift of Life is a nonprofit and international stem cell and marrow registry that works to recruit potential donors for patients battling blood cancers, sickle cell and other immune disorders,” Messer said. “Our mission is to find a matching donor for every patient in need.” 

According to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, one person is diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma approximately every three minutes

Additionally, an estimated 1,519,907 people in the United States are living with, or in remission from, leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) or myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). 

For many people, bone marrow transplantation or peripheral blood stem cell transplant can lead to recovery. Gift of Life has made it possible for many people to match with strangers in order to receive transplants. 

“It’s not only important to join the registry and grow the registry, but also to diversify the registry as well, so running events on campus and in the community is very important for patients worldwide,” Messer said.

Messer said matching is incredibly difficult and many groups of people are not represented in the registry. Genetics have to match to a certain extent in order to be compatible.

Messer said Gift of Life has been running the Swab-A-Thon event for six years, which has led to further data collection in the registry and more matches for patients in need. She said the work of Swab-A-Thon is particularly impactful on college campuses. 

“This is a great way for students to get involved in a different way than they are used to, as you are able to see the immediate impact of how many people you have added to the registry, and also the matches and transplants that come from events on campus,” Messer said.

Gift of Life also has an organization at GVSU where students can get involved by volunteering, becoming a donor or helping raise financial support. 

Junior Caroline Carlson is treasurer of the Rotaract Volunteering Club at GVSU. She said she participated in the Swab-A-Thon her freshman year when the Gift of Life organization was reaching out to other organizations on campus.

“The process was very easy,” Carlson said. “They came to my club meeting during my freshman year and explained the process, then gave swabs to anyone who wanted to participate.” 

Getting swabbed doesn’t mean a person is required to donate, but it does put participants into a registry so if they match with someone in need, the organization can notify them. 

“Joining the registry is very simple; it’s just an online survey to get some contact information and some health history questions,” Messer said. “Then a simple cheek swab is how we see what your HLA typing is. Just because you join doesn’t mean that you will be called as a match or to donate, but if you are, Gift of Life will get ahold of you to walk you through next steps.” 

After getting a match, Gift of Life walks each interested person through the steps to donate.

“You will get a simple blood test done to make sure you are a match for the patient we are looking at and then a physical to make sure that you are healthy enough to donate,” Messer said.

Messer said students who are interested in getting involved can contact her via email at [email protected]. Additionally, applications for the fall 2023 Gift of Life internship program opens later this spring.