November is National Marrow Awareness Month: A USF medical student donates to help save a toddler

Carrie Ryan got the text message while she was in her Introduction to Clerkship class at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine: she was a potential match to someone needing a bone marrow transplant.

Ryan, a third-year medical student at USF Health, had added her profile to the National Marrow Donor Program several years prior while she worked in Washington, DC. With a simple inner-cheek swab, her genetic information was added to the national registry of millions of people willing to offer their bone marrow to others in need of life-saving stem cells.

“I had been on the registry for eight years or so,” Ryan said. “So I knew from the day I registered that I could be contacted at any given moment.”

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Carrie Ryan, USF third-year medical student

After the text message, Ryan’s next steps were to provide a blood sample to confirm through HLA typing that she would match with the recipient, answer a detailed questionnaire about her current health status and exposure to infectious diseases such as Zika virus, among other questions, and undergo a physical examination, EKG and a chest X-ray.

During this time, Ryan also found out a little more about her recipient.

“She is 2 years old and has leukemia,” Ryan said. “Talk about an incentive to help.”

A week prior to her surgery, Ryan underwent filgastrim (Neupogen®) injections to stimulate her body into producing more bone marrow. She then flew to Washington, DC, where she underwent peripheral blood stem cell collection. The donation is through apheresis, a process similar to the donation of platelets, which took about five hours and she was able to return to Tampa the following day.

Although she hasn’t met her recipient, Ryan said she was told the toddler is doing well.

November is National Marrow Awareness Month and Ryan said she’s eager to remind others how easy it is to be included in the national registry and how impactful it can be to the thousands who are waiting for a match.

“Only about 30 percent of family members are matches so it’s important that we all add to the registry,” she said. “It’s super easy and super rewarding.”

There is a national need for bone marrow donors, especially for minority groups. You can register through a local registration drive, or you can sign up on BeTheMatch.org.

Photos and video by Ryan Noone, USF Health Office of Communications