Students Defy Bone Marrow Match Odds

Salina campus has three students who are preliminary matches to donate bone marrow for cancer victims.

Published on: Apr 11, 2012

Three students at the Kansas State University Salina campus have defied some pretty long odds.

They have proved to be preliminary matches to patients needing help in the national bone marrow donors registry. The odds of a match are less than 1 percent.

In December 2011 the campus' chapter of Students In Free Enterprise encouraged students to swap some spit for the chance to win a $500 scholarship. The Give a Spit campaign, was the organization's way of giving back by helping build the national database of bone marrow donors to help save the lives of people with bone or blood cancers.

Students Defy Bone Marrow Match Odds
Students Defy Bone Marrow Match Odds

Two of the three students have been identified. Both are in the professional pilot training program. And when they were contacted about being matched to patients two weeks ago, both were surprised.

"They said it was extremely rare to be contacted at all, even more rare that I had been contacted after being on the list for such a short amount of time," said Matt Lambky, sophomore in professional pilot, Towanda. "But when I went to get the blood work done, they told me I was the third sample they'd taken for this."

One of the other two matches was Travis Balthazor, junior in professional pilot, Palco.

The third student has not chosen to make his or her identity known.

"I won't lie; I was hesitant about signing up at first, but the student running the booth told me what it was about and that I would most likely never get called. A recipient must be your identical DNA twin for the procedure to work," Balthazor said. "I decided to get swabbed, thinking that I would never get called – but that if I did, it would be pretty neat."

Knowing that there was such a small chance of being an identical match to someone in need of a donor, Balthazor wasn't expecting the news he received while at an aviation conference.

"I was told there was a 39-year-old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and that we were a match," he said. "I was told that this is something I might want to take some time and talk to my friends and family about. So I did, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I didn't go through with this I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing that someone is out there dying that I can help."

The blood work required drawing six vials of blood from the donor to test against the patient's blood, all to make sure they were perfect identical genetic twins and that the initial match wasn't a false positive.

"I got an email saying I was a match and if I wanted to continue that I should contact them," Bathazor said. "They asked me some questions, and then had me fill out some paperwork. As far as I know, I'm the only match for this patient. But there are a few other databases out there, so I don't really know how many other possible matches there are or much about the person in need," he said.

The blood work can take up to six weeks to process, and the waiting is hard.

"I'm nervous," Lambky said. "I'm worried about missing school and flight time, but it's selfish not to do it because of that."

As students in K-State Salina's professional pilot program, both are fully aware that if they are matches, the donation process will put them behind in flying hours and possibly put them behind on their path to graduation. But that isn't stopping them from continuing with the donation process.

More information about the Give A Spit campaign is available at http://www.dosomething.org/spit. More information about bone marrow donation is available at http://www.dkmsamericas.org/. Both websites provide information on how to become a donor.