Spartans help to find bone marrow donors


If you could save someone’s life, would you? That’s the question Michigan State University student athletes asked on campus Wedneday.

The students athletes teamed up off the fields in East Lansing Wednesday with the Be the Match foundation to find and register possible bone marrow donors, a mission that hit closer to home.

Three years ago, one of their own in the MSU athletics department was diagnosed with bone cancer. The only thing he said that can give him a longer life, would be to get a bone marrow transplant, but finding a donor takes time. 

“I am alive because someone donated bone marrow,” said Isaac Walker.

Isaac was first diagnosed with leukemia at only two years old and went through almost four years of treatment after his diagnosis. 

His mother, Fawnda Walker said, “He was cancer free for five and a half years, then it returned when he was eight.”

The treatment Isaac needed now, was a bone marrow transplant. 

Isaac’s father, Andrew Walker said, “You’re just not sure how things are gonna go. You’re not sure if you’re gonna have a match. Sometimes people don’t.”

But isaac was lucky because the Be the Match foundation was able to find him a donor.

“Isaac received a bone marrow transplant three years ago,” said his father.

Isaac’s mother said he’s perfectly healthy, besides having an annual check up on his immune system.

“I’m really grateful,” Isaac said.

Jim Pignatearo is hoping to have this same luck. He’s the Executive Associate Athletic Director at MSU and he’s battling a type of blood cancer with no cure.

Pignatearo said, “While I’ve been doing other therapies over the last three years, eventually I’m going to need a bone marrow transplant to give myself the best chance for long term success.”

The Spartan athletic community got behind Jim to host a ‘Be the Match Bone Marrow Drive.’ Jim says he doesn’t need the transplant now.

“It’s important though to have a donor identified so that when the time comes, when I’m in a perfect medical state to have this, that the donor’s ready to give,” Pignatearo said.

Finding a match isn’t easy. There are about 20 million people on the Be the Match registry now, “But we need 40 million because the chance of being someone’s match is very rare,” said Krista Ross. Ross partnered up Wednesday with the Be the Match foundation. 

Ross is the Executive Director with the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. The foundation provides opportunities to join the Be The Match Registry. Ross said there’s only a 30% chance a patient will match with a family member.

“So, 70% of the time they’re are gonna rely on a stranger to save their life,” Ross said.

This is what happened to Isaac. He match with a donor from Texas.

His mother said once you register, “it’s one simple swab to see if you’re a match and you could save somebody’s life.”

“To save a life like me,” said Isaac.

If you would like to sign up to be on the be the match registry click here. Once you register, you’ll be on the list until you’re 61-years-old.

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