Student group plans benefit to help ailing Chicago girl

By Contributing Writer

By Tyler Eagle, Contributing Writer

Columbia’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America will partner with Be The Match, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding donors for bone marrow and stem cell transplants, for an event to help find a bone marrow match for Nyiah Young, a 7-year-old Chicago native with sickle cell anemia.

The event will be held Dec. 5 in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., and will include food, beverages and a raffle. Organizers hope to register at least 100 students, one of whom will hopefully be a donor for Nyiah.

“Any one of those students could be a match,” said Ashley Lavore, a senior marketing communication major and PRSSA’s special events coordinator. “It’s amazing and beautiful when you think about it. You could save a life.”

According to Contreras, Nyiah has become very ill in recent months, suffering two strokes because of the blood disease. She has been involved with Be The Match for three years in the search for

a donor.

“[Nyiah] is in immediate need,” said Sandra Kumorowski, a faculty member in the Marketing Communication Department and PRSSA’s faculty advisor. “There are a lot of people on this waiting list. The more people we approach, the more chances we have of helping.”

Julie Contreras, a representative of Be The Match, will be in charge of the medical aspects of the event. To register, participants must also provide a cheek swab, which Contreras said she will administer.  She will also be available to answer questions regarding the process of donating bone marrow.

According to Contreras, donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44 and in good health. She said there are several conditions that would disqualify a potential donor, such as diabetes and most sexually transmitted diseases. Donors remain in the system until the age of 61, which is when samples become inviable, she added.

Contreras explained that ethnicity is a factor when matching donors to recipients because the geographic location of the person’s ancestors is taken into consideration, which is a challenge in ethnically diverse countries like America. Nyiah is black, a race with few registered donors.

Out of 9 million registered donors in the nation, only 500,000 are black, according to Contreras. She said that though everyone is encouraged to register regardless of race, finding the best donor for the youngster remains the main focus.

“We’re completely dedicated to finding a match [for Nyiah],” Lavore said. “We’re targeting the African-American community so we can do that.”

During the event, potential donors will fill out a short form asking for their geographic location, an emergency contact and a few other details, Kumorowski said. Those who choose to register will be assigned a number, which is how they are entered into the system. A DNA sample is then collected by swabbing the inside of the cheek, Contreras said.

According to Contreras, the DNA samples are analyzed and entered into a system that compares them to possible recipients. The system is constantly comparing donors to recipients to ensure that matches are made as soon as possible.

When a match is found, the potential donor is contacted, Contreras said. If the donor agrees to continue, he or she will undergo blood tests to reconfirm the match. Be The Match covers all medical expenses if the donor goes through with the transplant, Contreras said.

“The chances of your [name] being called up is literally one in a million,” Contreras said. “It’s like playing the lottery.”

Kumorowski said the idea for the event was inspired by Daniela Lakosilova, her friend’s 17-year-old daughter who is battling leukemia for the second time.

Kumorowski said she went to a Be The Match donor event for Lakosilova, who was matched to a donor and received a bone marrow transplant at the University of Chicago.

“It’s such a unique way of helping people and even children who need a transplant,” Kumorowski said.

After the event for Lakosilova, Kumorowski presented the idea of hosting a similar one for Nyiah


According to her, Be The Match suggested PRSSA host an event for the child after Lakosilova found a donor. She said the organization immediately latched on to the idea to register more donors.

“You can make a difference right away,” Kumorowski said. “Students don’t have to give anything. They just have to give a swab.”