Weaving through the myriad of festival booths in Anchorage, Alaska this past summer, TMU student, Tyler Morris, stepped aside the noisy crowds to answer a call from an unknown number. The caller introduces himself as Jordan, a coordinator from Be The Match, a diverse marrow registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program ® (NMDP).
Jordan informed Morris that he was a possible donor match for a patient with leukemia. To confirm the match, Morris would need to undergo more testing. If the match was successful, Morris had the opportunity to save this person’s life. However, as with all other potential donors, he was free to decline with no pressure or obligation. After glancing at his family standing nearby, he quickly replied to Jordan with a resolute “yes.” That day in June would mark a significant step in a life-giving journey.
When asked why he replied so quickly, Morris reflected, “When I got the phone call this summer and they told me from the very beginning that the recipient would be a 42-year-old female, I realized that’s right around the age of my mom. I know what it would mean to me if my mom were in that situation and there was someone who had the opportunity to potentially save her life. And I also know how much it would hurt if they didn’t. I think that’s why I didn’t hesitate.”
Along with over 100 other TMU students, Morris had joined the donor registry a few months prior during a Be The Match campus recruiting event hosted by TMU’s Martha Rielin and Elizabeth Salmen School of Nursing. Joining the registry was quick and painless. Students were given a simple cheek swab that was mailed off to the Be The Match national registry of potential bone marrow and PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) donors. This registry offers a last chance at life for many of those suffering from deadly blood diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia.
Patrice Parris, Assistant Professor of Nursing, arranged the Be The Match drive at Truett McConnell University. Having seen a member of her own family saved through a donor, Parris is passionate about educating others on the impact they can make through Be The Match: “Being in nursing, we know that it’s the one treatment for leukemia, a blood cancer. I think of it as a global mission field because you’re giving life to people throughout the world in a very literal way.”
However, not every patient receives a donor. Sadly, many patients die each year without a life-saving donation of blood stem cells or bone marrow. Of those patients needing a transplant, over 70% do not have a matched donor within their family. The more people who join Be The Match registry, the greater the chance patients have at receiving a life-saving transplant.
Typically, potential donors go through several months of waiting and additional testing, followed by more waiting and preparation. However, Morris’s matching and donation process was uncommonly accelerated. Despite taking an academic load of 21 hours, serving as a resident assistant, and having an aversion to needles, the TMU student embraced the whirlwind of calls, doctor’s appointments, testing, and preparation to stay true to his commitment.
“I can only assume something came up that made it a pretty urgent donation,” said Morris, “but I don’t know for sure. No part of me wanted to deal with missing class or the needles, but I don’t think there’s really a choice when it comes to saving someone’s life.”
In fact, even when faced with obstacles, solutions seemed to reveal the hand of God working through his circumstances. In light of the urgency required, he rushed to find help in coordinating the medical preparation needed before donation. After exhausting most of his other resources, Morris found himself walking the halls of the TMU School of Nursing after hours on a Friday evening, on the unlikely chance that someone would there who might be able to help him.
One professor just happened to be staying late that night…Professor Parris. “When Tyler, told me what he was looking for help with, I was so excited to help him! I said, ‘I’m the coordinator for Be The Match at Truett McConnell. Come in!’ I was thrilled.”
Independently with her nursing license, Parris helped the potential donor complete the four-day preparation period necessary to prepare his body. Among other treatments, injections are given that stimulate stem cell production to increase the chances of a successful donation.
At last, on a balmy night in September, Morris, joined by his father (and TMU alum) Jonathan Morris, boarded a plane for Dallas, Texas. Early the next morning, he arrived at the Be The Match medical facility, feeling slightly nervous but excited for donation day.
The actual stem cell donation process typically takes anywhere from six hours to two days; however, Morris was finished in only four hours. Within a few days, he was back to his normal routine with minimal side effects.
In response to his donation, Parris is proud to see the generosity of a TMU student who said yes to giving life.
She reflects, “You would be surprised how many people are called by Be The Match but decline to donate, even if it means saving someone’s life. Tyler has acted very courageously and very sacrificially, despite being nervous about the needles. What he’s done is overcome a fear to save someone’s life whom he’s never met. That lady has hope because of him, and because of the drive here at Truett McConnell. If we didn’t have that drive, we wouldn’t have found Tyler.”
Although the young donor has not heard confirmation of his donation being successful, news of a successful transplant is expected any day now.
When asked if he would encourage others to join Be The Match, Morris affirmed, “There’s no amount of discomfort or inconvenience that’s ever going to be worth another person’s life. So, I think this is a good thing for everyone to participate in. I think if someone gets the call, they should absolutely do it…I would say yes again if they asked.”
Since 1979, Be The Match has successfully coordinated over 105,000 blood stem cell transplants, including 6,467 just in the last year. Donors between the ages of 18 and 44 are especially in need. Visit the Be The Match to join, give, or volunteer today.
Havilah Miller is the Assistant Director of Student Success.Return to News Archive