Howard U. volleyball player misses tournament to make stem-cell donation to leukemia patient

WASHINGTON, DC (WJLA/CNN) - A Howard University volleyball player was recently faced with a big decision: Play in one of her last big tournaments or miss it to make a potentially life-saving stem cell donation?

The student-athlete hopes her choice to try to save a life will lead to change.

Between volleyball practices, games and her classes, student athlete Jurnee Farrell found a moment to register for Be the Match when the organization visited Howard University.

“So I went and they just like swab my cheek, had me fill out some paperwork and then you turn everything in an envelope,” she said.

Two years passed. Then she got the call from the nonprofit that helps those dying from blood cancers.

She was a match for a leukemia patient.

“She realized what he signed up for. And so she said, ‘Well, I made a commitment, and I’m going to stick to that commitment,’” Beth Kerrigan with Be the Match said.

That commitment caused her to miss the Milk Championship tournament, but that was a sacrifice she was willing to make because she could save a life and because African-American involvement in the registry is low.

“For us, it’s an issue. I noticed in the African-American community, just making sure that folks understand that we’re here for them. We’re not here to sell anything or - we just want to save more black and Hispanic lives and Asian lives and white lives,” Kerrigan said.

The chances of being asked to donate are one in 430, but the chance for a match is just 23 percent for black patients and 46 percent for Hispanics, as compared to 78 percent for whites.

Kerrigan wants people to know that things have changed. Eighty percent of the time the procedure is noninvasive and doesn’t involve bone marrow at all.

She said it’s just like a platelet or a plasma donation.

“It is just a blood product, and your body will make more stem cells,” Kerrigan said.

“Donating bone marrow, they think it’s really painful, and it’s a really, really easy thing to do. And you’re saving somebody else’s life,” Farrell said.

In about a year, doctors will determine if her transplant to the woman was a success, and at that time, Farrell and her stem cell recipient have the opportunity to meet.

And as for that volleyball tournament, Howard University went on to win it all, with Farrell on the sidelines supporting her team.

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