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Staubitz spends spring break donating bone marrow

Women's soccer player endures painful procedure

April 21, 2011


Staubitz spends spring break donating bone marrow

Spring Break. That annual teenage celebration of anything that isn’t school and studying.

Count Binghamton sophomore women’s soccer player Alyssa Staubitz among those who spent the break traveling away from home, relaxing and creating long-lasting memories.

But while many college students were flying to exotic locales and lounging poolside or on a tropical beach, Staubitz traveled 20 miles from her Massapequa home and her “lounging” was done in a hospital room. You see, Stautibz was a bone marrow donor who voluntarily went through a lengthy and painful process of a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. And those spring break memories she created were future memories for a female leukemia patient, the recipient of her bone marrow.

Staubitz offered a selfless sacrifice with her anonymous donation. Peripheral blood stem cell transplantation restores stem cells that have been destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. According to the Institute for Justice, more than 1,000 individuals die each year because they can’t find a matching donor and at any given time, at least 7,500 Americans are actively searching the national registry for an unrelated donor. Only 30% of patients who need bone marrow transplants have matching donors in their families, making Alyssa’s act all the more vital.

The nearly nine-hour procedure at the hospital was the end of a process that began more than one month earlier when she signed up during an organized on-campus drive sponsored by DKMS Americas.

“My suitemate, who had signed up in high school, told me a little about it,” Staubitz says. “Donating my bone marrow seemed like a small price to pay for a leukemia patent who truly needed it.”

Signing up was the easy part. Many people are never called to action because they aren’t a strong enough match for the patient. Or many times the call doesn’t come for years. Staubitz was ready, though. Her friend, Christine Monroy, had donated her bone marrow a few weeks earlier, and hearing of Christine’s experience only further motivated Alyssa. Alyssa’s mom, Michelle, recalls the phone call.

“I was getting ready for work one morning while Alyssa was home from school and she started screaming,” Michelle says. “She was also waiting to find out if she was accepted into the Decker School of Nursing. So my first thought was that she had heard back from the nursing school and was accepted into the program. Much to my surprise, her excitement was that she was a match and was so happy she was going to be part of saving someone’s life.”

From there, Alyssa had to return home and go to the hospital to be tested to confirm that she was the best match for the patient. She then scheduled the procedure for spring break so she could have time to recover before returning to campus, a decision that caught her mom’s eye.

“I thought to myself ... wow ... what a kid to take time away from her break and go through such an evasive procedure,” Michelle says. “She has always had a big heart and is a kind soul. She always finds the good in people and will put herself last to help others.”

Not that Michelle didn’t have reservations about her daughter being a donor. She was concerned about the physical toll of the procedure and Alyssa’s ability to recover and continue her dual focus of being a student-athlete - particularly the daily rigors of being a soccer player.

The next step in the process was for a home nurse to administer five injections of a synthetic protein called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in her bloodstream. Alyssa received one injection each day for five days leading up to the procedure. The shots made her tired and gave her muscle pain, bone pain and headaches.

She arrived at the hospital at 7:30 a.m. and shortly thereafter her procedure began. She was hooked up to three different tubes, two in her left arm and one in her right. She had to keep her left arm completely still as the tubes took her blood into a machine, where it was filtered to capture her platelets and marrow before it was returned into her right arm. Several hours later, Alyssa’s marrow was captured and her healing began, as it soon will for the leukemia patient.

“The day of the donation was the worst day because it took a toll on my body,” Alyssa recalls. “I was very light-headed and nauseous and had a loss of appetite.”

But no one heard any complaints.

“She was there for nearly nine hours and walked away like a trooper ... never complained one bit,” her mom says. “When we were in the car driving home, she turned to me and said, ‘Mom I really hope this works and the woman will be okay.’”

Staubitz endured fatigue for several days after the procedure but was back to normal within a week. She finished recovering over the break and only missed a few days of soccer practice after returning to school. Start to finish, it was nearly two weeks of poking, prodding, draining and wearing down of her body - a body she works hard to keep in top shape throughout the year. But Staubitz, whose knowledge of the body was heightened through her anatomy and physiology coursework, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This person and her family truly needed my help and I couldn’t imagine denying them that,” she says.

Vanessa Erazo, Post-Donation Follow Up Coordinator at DKMS Americas who worked with Alyssa, was quick to offer praise.

“Not everyone says ‘yes’,” Erazo explains. “We talk to people everyday that for some reason or another just can’t go through with it. It takes a truly special and amazing person to do what Alyssa did for a complete stranger. She has given this person a second chance at life.”

Staubitz, who has career aspirations of being a nurse anesthetist, is driven toward helping people. Head soccer coach Sarah McClellan has seen it firsthand.

“Alyssa is a caring person and a great teammate,” McClellan says. “Her compassion and willingness to help others provide a great representation of our University and women’s soccer program.”

McClellan actually has two potential donors in her program, as Staubitz’s teammate, Kerry Sullivan, also signed up at the same donor drive and could be a potential match for another patient.

“Who could turn down a chance to save someone’s life?” Alyssa asks.

NOTES
According to DKMS, the world’s largest bone marrow donor center, every four minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer and every 10 minutes blood cancer takes a precious life. Today, DKMS has more than 2.7 million registered donors. Go online at www.GetSwabbed.org to request a cheek swab kit to be mailed directly to your home.

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