LifeSource teams up with Blackhawks for blood/marrow drive
By Alex Lubischer
LifeSource, Chicagoland’s Blood Center, teamed up with the Chicago Blackhawks for a blood drive and marrow registry in honor of 14-year-old leukemia patient and Blackhawks fan Emma Gomez on Saturday, March 23. A total of 640 life-saving units of blood were collected at the blood drive, which was held at both the Intercontinental Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont and the Residence Hall at North Central College in Naperville. Furthermore, 75 Blackhawks fans entered the Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry.
LifeSource marketing and communications manager Tammy Basile, who first helped foster the Blackhawks partnership four years ago, credited the blood drive’s success to the incredible teamwork of the LifeSource staff as well as the generosity of the Blackhawks and their fans.
“It’s the fans who are coming out,” said Basile. “It’s the fans who are donating, and every person is so wonderful and so giving and so enthusiastic. They thank us for having the blood drive, when they’re the ones who are giving of themselves.”
Andrew Shaw and Ray Emery, the Blackhawks’ right wing and goaltender, respectively, made an appearance in Rosemont to sign autographs and greet the fans. The team’s left wing Brandon Saad and center Marcus Kruger attended the Naperville branch of the drive.
Among the many fans in red and black, a pink-clad family could be seen guiding donors over to the Be the Match Registry booth. Printed on their T-shirts were TEAM EMMA in bold plum; leading the charge was Emma Gomez’s mother, Christl.
“When I heard the Blackhawks were doing a blood drive, I said, ‘We need to piggyback off of this. It’s a perfect opportunity to have a bone marrow drive’,” Christl said. “Because, for us, really, blood and marrow go together.”
Emma’s specific case of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) has progressed to acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a type of leukemia that is highly uncommon in children. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of those with AML are kids. Locating a bone marrow donor who is a match for Emma could be critical to saving her life.
“It’s very rare,” said Christl. “Eighteen months ago when we tried finding a match for Emma, there was only one [registered] match in the entire world. Because her transplant failed [in October 2012], we may or may not have to do another one. Right now, her leukemia is there, but it’s in check. She’s not in remission, but the amount of cancer cells in her body right now are low enough that we don’t want to submit her to another round of chemo. And there are so many risks in transplants, and with only one match still in the world… So, it’s really important to us to get as many people on the registry as possible that could potentially help Emma or other people needing a donor.”
According to the National Marrow Donor’s Program website, only 1 in 540 United States Be the Match registry donors will go on to donate bone marrow or stem cells. It is not unheard of for donors with rare tissue types to never match a patient, or to be the only person out of 10.5 million registry members who can save a person’s life.
Grace Defante, 19, and her boyfriend Jon Vargas, 21, showed up to give blood and enter the bone marrow registry. Postdonation, as they refueled with pretzels and bottled water at the snack tables, Grace said, “This was my third time. I just did it because he’s a Blackhawks fan, so I ended up coming here.”
From there, the couple went on to meet two of their favorite Blackhawks players and finally have their mouths swabbed for bone marrow registry.
“It’s almost more like a fingerprint really,” said Christl, who encourages all eligible donors to get out there and register. “That’s how unique it is. So, had that original donor not stepped up and donated, Emma would have never had her first match.”
Saturday’s event marked one of four blood drives that LifeSource organizes with the Blackhawks throughout the year. Of the multitude of organizations that LifeSource partnered with last year, including worship groups, fire departments and the city of Chicago, the Blackhawks and their fans ranked fourth in terms of total amounts of life-saving units raised, enough for potentially saving more than 5,000 lives.
LifeSource operates 18 donor centers, four mobile unit supported donor centers, and conducts an average of 10 mobile blood drives daily. To learn more about how you can start donating blood, or to enter the Be the Match Bone Marrow Registry, visit www.lifesource.org. And to help Emma and read the rest of her story, check out her Team Emma Be the Match page.