Prior to the fall of 2016, Shaunise Robinson already had a lot on her plate. The 27-year-old was a mother to a 4-year-old toddler (and you know how those 4-year-olds are), a third grade teacher and was pursing a doctorate in education at Texas A&M University.
But then Robinson was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare and potentially fatal condition, in which your body is no longer able to produce new blood cells. The diagnosis abruptly complicated her already busy life, forcing her to squeeze in twice-weekly visits to her doctor in the midst of everything else.
“I go to the doctor twice a week to check my blood counts and when my counts are low I have to get transfusions,” she says about her new treatment regimen. “Currently, I receive platelet transfusions twice a week and blood transfusions every two weeks.”
Additionally, she now has to take five different medications to manage the symptoms of her condition (such as extreme fatigue, dizziness and frequent infections) until she’s able to find a match for a bone marrow transplant.
For many, suffering from blood conditions like aplastic anemia, lymphoma or leukemia, the only cure is often a bone marrow transplant. Yet, roughly 70 percent of patients needing donors don’t have a marrow match within their family, so they, like Robinson, have to rely on the matches they receive from a donor registry. And unfortunately again for Robinson, African-Americans are less likely to find a bone marrow match than any other race, according to numbers from Be The Match—the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world.
“Patients are most likely to match someone who shares their ancestry, and African-American patients have the lowest odds of finding a match compared to all other populations,” says Robinson who is now a spokesperson for the Be the Match registry. “More African-American donors are urgently needed to save more lives.”
That’s what drove former Villanova football player C.J. Logan to step up and become a donor. As part of a bone marrow drive headed by his team’s then-coach Andy Talley, Logan joined the marrow registry with the desire to spread awareness about marrow donation and possibly make a difference.
“I was informed that I would be Villanova’s first African American donor, which mattered to me because, obviously, I wanted to help more people of color join the registry and potentially save lives,” says the 23-year-old, who now works as a financial advisor.
His quest to help save a life eventually became reality in his senior year of college. Logan came up as a match for a patient in need and was called upon for his donation—a donation process that Logan admits was much easier than he expected. After a few blood samples and a brief hour surgery, the process was complete, he said.
“Some people don’t join the Be The Match registry because they have a misunderstanding about how painful the process is,” says Robinson. “There are actually two ways to donate marrow. One is collected from the back of your hip and the other is collected from blood from your arm. When you donate marrow, you are under general anesthesia and feel no pain during the procedure. Most donors say they would do it again to save a life.”
And Logan agrees, encouraging future donors to see the contribution through a different perspective. “Think [of] the recipient as being someone in your family or a friend who is close to you and how you would feel if they were in need and only could rely on one person to make a difference.”
And that’s all it really takes. One person can be a cure and save the life of another human being—and potentially even Robinson who still awaits her match.
“This experience completely changed my life in so many ways. I am unable to teach right now because of the risk of getting sick from my students, but I am not going to let that stop me from helping kids in another way,” she says. “I want to turn my experience into a positive one by helping young people who don’t always have a platform to speak about what they’re going through. I want to help the parents of those children find strength in knowing that more people are learning about how they can help by joining Be The Match, National Bone Marrow Registry.”
For more information and to inquire about donation, visit bethematch.org.
Nina Reeder is a professional journalist, who has worked as senior editor at Upscale magazine and contributed to publications and outlets, such as EBONY magazine, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, BMWK and more.