Two Mississippi medical students still have some time before completing their training, but they’re already having a positive effect on the health of others. Ian Mallett and John Howard, both second-year students at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, have donated bone marrow or stem cells to individuals whose lives were threatened by leukemia. A third student is on standby in case the primary donor is unable to donate.
“These medical students have demonstrated there are more ways to save lives,” said Mattie Coburn, donor center coordinator and recruiter for the Mississippi Marrow Donor Program. “They’ve given a part of themselves.”
Mallett and Howard are in the group — young and healthy — that the program especially encourages to become donors. Evaluations and consent forms are required along with a cheek swab administered by Coburn. “Ninety percent of the time transplant centers choose between the ages of 18 to 44 although people 45 to 60 can join the registry.”
The registry began in 1987 and has conducted a drive at the medical center each year since 1991.
“I think a lot of people go to medical school because they want to take care of people and save lives,” Mallett said. “It’s a responsibility people have. This is an opportunity to save a life and you don’t have to do anything special.”
“That’s the reason we’re here,” Howard said.
Coburn says the two students are like most Mississippians who register. “Most donors who join the Registry are doing it to save a stranger.”
In the 15 years she’s worked with the donor program, she’s never seen three students from the same class identified as possible donors in the same year or seen two who made donations in the same year.
As the number of students who join the Registry grows, it may happen more often.
Mallett and Howard signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be The Match Registry, part of an international program to match donors with those who need the life-saving transplants. Mallett signed at a drive at the University of Mississippi. Howard did it at a drive at UMMC.
The Mississippi Marrow Donor Program, a part of the National Marrow Donor Program, coordinated their gift and helped arrange for Mallett’s bone marrow and Howard’s stem cells to be harvested and transported to the transplant center where patients awaited the gift.
For five days before his donation Howard received shots to enhance his stem cell count. Then came four to five hours of apheresis. The process uses a machine, the same one used to gather platelets at a blood center, to take blood from one arm, remove the stem cells and return the remaining blood to the other arm.
“I loaded an IPad with a TV series I wanted to see, he said. “All said, it wasn’t bad.”
Fatigue and achy bones lasted a couple of days before and after the donation.
Mallett’s bone marrow donation involved surgically removing the marrow from his hip, an overnight hospital stay and a longer recovery. The recipient’s medical team decides if they need bone marrow or stem cells based on the patient’s illness, other medical conditions and other factors.
“I was pretty sore for a couple of days,” he said. “It wasn’t anything too terrible. I had to study anyway so I was just laying around on the couch.”
Would they do it again? “Oh, yeah, definitely, without a doubt,” Mallett said.
Howard answered affirmatively too. A year ago, he was the back-up donor, a person on standby in case the primary donor for any reason couldn’t complete the donation.
“They had all my HLA typing in the system. I was told I would be more likely to be called because they already had my information,” he said.
The desire to help runs deep. Both arrived at UMMC with family knowledge of medicine. D’Iberville resident Mallett’s parents are physicians on the Gulf Coast. Madison County resident Howard’s father is a physician, and his mother a retired nurse.
Howard said his donation was easier because it was for a smaller woman. Mallett’s was a bit larger because it was for a man. “The patient was my dad’s age,” Mallett said. “It could easily have been my dad. I’d want that (a donor) for him.”
For a year, the little they now know of each recipient is all they’ll know. After that, both the recipient and donor have to agree before any additional information can be exchanged. Mallett and Howard are open to that but each said they’ll respect the wishes of the recipient. “I’m just happy to know I helped,” Howard said.
Coburn receives periodic reports on the recipients. For now, both are doing well.
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