By Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver
When visiting “Be The Match” on Twitter, one finds a sense of urgency in many of the posts. “Two sisters diagnosed with rare disease in need of bone marrow transplant” and “Toddler with sickle cell anemia desperately needs donation before her second birthday” are just a few examples. However, there are also stories of hope, such as the 11-year-old boy saved by his little sister’s stem cells and the Uber driver who donated blood to a girl with leukemia. It is life-changing stories like these that propel members of the Creekside High swim and dive team to get the word out about “Be The Match,” a worldwide registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.
“Every time we do a drive, people will come up to us and say, ‘Oh, I know somebody who is alive today because of this,” said Nina Kannatt, whose daughter, Anna Gapinski, spearheaded this service project at Creekside until she graduated. Now, Kannatt’s son, David Gapinski, continues the tradition.
During various events, including the homecoming football game, teammates share information and encourage people to become blood and bone marrow donors. Other options include giving umbilical cord blood or tax-deductible donations, which are needed for uninsured patients, donor costs, and medical research.
“I’ve had people close to me who were diagnosed with various types of cancer. Not all of them have survived, but spreading the word about BTM can give people with blood cancers a chance at life,” said swimmer and Creekside sophomore Lourdes McKay.
Through the efforts of the swim and dive team, 15 people have signed up this year. Even though registering is as simple as filling out a short application and taking a cheek swab, Kannatt said that many people shy away from it due to “stories they’ve heard about it being painful.”
In actuality, about 80 percent of donors are asked to give blood — and do not require surgical procedures, according to the bethematch.org website. The chance of being asked to donate is 1 in 430, and there is always an opportunity to decline. Although an estimated 20,000 people a year search for a donor, it is more difficult for people with ethnically diverse backgrounds. For instance, Asians and Pacific Islanders have a 41 percent chance and black or African American people have a 23 percent chance of finding a match.
Kannatt hasn’t been called to donate during her 30 years in the registry database, but she says she will continue to spread the word and keep memories alive. She shares about her father, Herman Kannatt, who was a 30-year leukemia survivor, and Byron Plapp, a dear family friend. Plapp was a local swimmer and transplant recipient who passed away in 2015 at the age of 25 after a hard-fought battle with lymphoma. Each year, the Bolles School holds a Byron Plapp Swimming and Diving Invitational to honor this alumnus, who was a 1st Lieutenant and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he also swam competitively.
To date, Be The Match has facilitated more than 92,000 blood stem cell transplants, giving many patients hope for a future. For McKay and other members of the swim team, these statistics are encouraging.
“I think we should all give back to our community a little more. So, this cause is important to me for that reason,” she said.
For more information, contact Kannatt at firstname.lastname@example.org, text teambyron to 61474, or visit bethematch.org. (People between the ages of 18 – 44 are selected as donors by physicians about 86 percent of the time.)
Photo courtesy Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver
The Creekside swim and dive team supports Be the Match.