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Sigma Nu Hosts Bone Marrow Registration Drive in Honor of Graduate

HUNTINGDON COLLEGE

News Release

March 9, 2022
For more information, contact:
Su Ofe, (334) 833-4515; news@hawks.huntingdon.edu

Sigma Nu Hosts Bone Marrow Registration Drive in Honor of Graduate

Montgomery, Ala.—Huntingdon College’s chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity will host a Be the Match Bone Marrow Registration drive Monday and Tuesday, March 14–15, during lunch hours outside the College dining hall. The drive will be offered in honor of Haleigh Ridgeway, Class of 2020, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2021.

“Being registered does not mean that you will be called to donate bone marrow,” says John Buford, Class of 2022, a member of Sigma Nu who is coordinating the donor registry drive. “The process begins with showing interest in donating, followed by providing a swab of saliva from inside your cheek. That process gives the registry enough information to put you on the database.”

Willing donors are a great need, especially since seventy percent of patients do not have a fully-matched donor in their family, according to the Be the Match website. Every three minutes, one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Every 10 minutes, someone dies from a blood cancer.

Haleigh Ridgeway was returning with her family from a brief vacation last summer when she began having significant pain in her side. Her mother took her to the emergency room. Tests revealed that Haleigh’s white blood count had soared to 192,000 (normal is 4,000–7,000) and that her spleen was enlarged more than twice the normal size. She was taken by ambulance to Mobile Infirmary, where she underwent a bone marrow biopsy and a battery of other tests. After five days she was released, awaiting an appointment a week later at which doctors would reveal what they had found. “Those were the longest seven days of my life,” Haleigh recalls. “[During that time] I decided that MY GOD WAS BIGGER, no matter what the outcome would be. On Thursday, June 24, I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). CML is a slowly progressing and uncommon type of blood cell cancer that begins in the bone marrow. [CML] has three phases: chronic, accelerated, and blast.” Haleigh remains at Phase I, chronic. She takes a chemotherapy pill each day and completes monthly bloodwork and Zoom calls with her oncologist. Luckily, she does not have to have a transplant at this time, but she remains aware that possibility exists for her future.

In cases where a bone marrow transplant is necessary, someone on the registry can make the difference between life and death for a leukemia patient. Another Huntingdon student who wishes to remain anonymous chose to make that difference in 2020.

“I first learned about the Be the Match registry when I was in high school,” says Student X. “I knew it was something the Lord was leading me to do, however I wasn’t able to sign up at the time. During my freshman year at Huntingdon, I had another chance to sign up and this time I knew the timing was right for me to put my name on the list.” Student X registered in November that year. He got a call in September of his sophomore year indicating that he was a potential match for a man suffering from leukemia. After further bloodwork, however, it was determined that there was a better genetic match for the recipient. “At the time, I was confused as to why I wasn’t selected since I had felt such a calling throughout the whole process,” he says. “I thought this might have been my only opportunity to donate since it’s so rare that someone matches even once in their lifetime. However, I remained on the registry until January 2020. That’s when I received another call.”

“The sense of humility you feel [when you are told that you’re a match] is so powerful,” says Student X. “Realizing that you alone are the best chance that person has to survive is incredibly humbling. I believe that there is no greater gift than life and having the ability to give someone a second chance at that is overwhelming.” Student X was matched with a 56-year-old-man. “He was about the same age as my dad—so that really put it into perspective.”

While Student X continued with his rigorous class schedule, he completed an equally rigorous regimen of tests to further determine his compatibility with his prospective recipient. “There were many lab tests and meetings with physicians, sometimes several times a week for 90 minutes each. I explained what I was doing to [senior vice presidents] Dr. Anthony Leigh and Dr. Tom Perrin, and they were fully supportive. All my faculty members were extremely supportive.”

Just as Student X reached the pinnacle of the testing and matching process, COVID-19 ramped up. He had to leave his job at a hospital at a time when he was needed the most in order not to be exposed to COVID-19 and therefore thwart his recipient’s chance at receiving a donation.

On July 24, 2020, Student X donated peripheral blood stem cells in a process that took about four hours. Be the Match covered all costs and transportation for him to take part in the donation process, and they continue follow-up today.

“The process was phenomenal,” says Student X. “I highly recommend it. If you feel called and if you feel a peace about doing this, you should definitely do it.”

“I am so grateful that John Buford and the brothers of Sigma Nu are doing this bone marrow registry drive,” says Haleigh, who continues working while undergoing treatment. She is a fourth grade reading teacher at Pine Level Elementary School in Autauga County. “I am doing well with my cancer journey at this moment in my life. My oncologist told me in January that I am not in need of a transplant at this time, however some people are not as fortunate. Bone marrow transplants save lives every day, and one day I might need one! Being a part of a drive makes you a hero!”

Be the Match is connected internationally with cooperative registries, providing access to more than 39 million donors worldwide. Be the Match also coordinates umbilical cord blood donations, an equally life-saving commodity for those in need of bone marrow transplants.

“This is like making a promise to fight,” says John, who received word this week that he has been accepted to medical school next year. His goal is to enter the field of rural medicine. “I hope everyone will take the step to sign up. You could be the cure for someone else.”

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Suellen (Su) Ofe

Suellen (Su) Ofe

Vice President
for Marketing and Communications
(334) 833-4515 | news@hawks.huntingdon.edu

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