CARLISLE — It was always Reed Salmons’ intention to go to medical school.
The senior Dickinson College student from Wilmington, Del., studies biology and has worked at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was rehired for work in the summer. But as he prepares for a trip to San Diego for the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, he finds himself with some useful new insight into cancer treatment.
Salmons, 22, was one of two Dickinson students who participated in last year’s bone marrow drive and was found to be a match for a person in need of treatment.
“It’s very rare for someone to find a match outside of their family,” Salmons said. “I feel very blessed to do it.”
Joel Quattrone, associate director of athletics and assistant football coach at Dickinson College, started the bone marrow registry drive in partnership with the Be The Match Registry and Get in the Game campaign last spring — something he and the college is bringing back this year on April 4. Efforts last year were mostly contained to the Dickinson College campus, and Salmons said he and a few friends — some from his lacrosse team — decided to register. The drive consists of taking tissue samples from Q-tip swabs of the cheek.
Months passed and Salmons assumed he wasn’t going to get the call.
He ended up getting a few missed calls, some voicemails and an email.
The registry reached out in October to let him know that he was the only match out of 10.5 million people for a man who needed stem cells for leukemia treatment. Salmons said it took no thought for him to agree, and after a few steps involving blood tests and paperwork, Salmons found himself in January at a hospital ready to donate the stem cells.
It was in January that the medical profession hopeful would get to see what it was like on the other side of the needle. Salmons sat side by side with cancer patients in the early stages as they tried to save their own stem cells for later use after chemotherapy.
Salmons said the process involves thrice daily injections for five days that helps elevate the number of stem cells that are needed by the cancer treatment. The injections cause bone aches, similar to what people feel when they have the flu, but it is temporary for the lead-up to the retrieval of the cells.
Usually, a line is set up in one arm that draws out of the body through a machine that takes out the stem cells it needs for the donation and back through another line attached to the other arm.
Salmons said his was process was slightly different due to the shape of the veins in his arms — he had to undergo minor surgery for a central line to be placed in the femoral artery in his leg.
That required an even earlier start for a six- to seven-hour process, but Salmons said that having a central line also freed his arms while he was sitting.
The process is a newer alternative to drilling into the bone itself to retrieve the marrow. It resulted in some side effects, including fatigue, that are expected to last a week but lasted a little longer for Salmons who noted, “I don’t think most people go to full lacrosse right after (donating).”
However uncomfortable the process was, Salmons said he takes a cost-benefit look at the situation, and the bone aches were well worth the results.
“The man was about my dad’s age,” he said. “I felt really useful.”
Salmons story is just one of two concerning Dickinson College which came out of last year’s drive. Quattrone said sophomore linebacker Teddy Airoldi of Bethlehem recently learned he was also a match through the registry and he is currently taking the preliminary steps for donation.
Considering the odds of finding a matching marrow donor, having two matches of the 247 people who registered last year is an impressive feat, Quattrone said.
“We’re just so thrilled,” he said. “If we can impact somebody’s life in a positive way ... that’s one of the greatest things we can do.”
The mission for this year’s drive is to register 400 people and to reach out more to those in the community surrounding the college. Quattrone said Carlisle High School is working with the drive this year to promote it, and he hopes to see those students of age, as well as faculty members, take part in the April 4 marrow donor registry drive.
The rules of Be The Match Registry is limited to individuals between the ages of 18 and 44. There is a limit because of the state of bone marrow as a person ages, and also because adding a person to the registry costs $100 each, though it costs nothing to those registering at the college.
To help defray the costs for the registry, Dickinson College will again hold a raffle for a 50-inch flat-screen Toshiba television. Last year, they raised $6,000 in the raffle. Dickinson is one of the few hosts to raise money along with the registry drive.
Quattrone said that even with all of the numbers, for what they and the registry are really hoping are more minorities and biracial members of the community to add their names to the list.
Dickinson’s drive is being held in honor of Malena Brown, 15, of Williamsport, who is currently battling leukemia and is biracial.
“We’re looking to not only add numbers, but also getting a diverse a crowd as we can,” he said. “All people are in need, and we’re reaching out to the African-American community on campus.”
For more information, visit Dickinson’s team page at www.bethematchfoundation.org/goto/DickinsonFootball.
Email Naomi Creason at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCreason