Saving a life is as easy as using a Q-tip.
In October 2012, Boise State hosted a bone marrow drive aimed at helping faculty member Raquel Brown locate a donor for her four second cousins who suffer from a form of blood cancer called “Diamond-Blackfan anemia,” in which the body doesn’t produce any red blood cells.
“There is so little I can do for them,” Brown said. “My personal goal is to help them. They are just the most amazing young men.”
The only known cure is a bone marrow transplant.
Reece Knippel, who graduated in May 2013 with his master’s in chemistry and currently teaches two chemistry labs on campus, didn’t think anything of it when Brown asked him to participate in the drive.
When asked if he’d ever done anything like this before, Knippel shook his head.
“I’ve never donated blood, I’ve never done anything less serious, if you want to call it that,” Knippel said.
Delete Blood Cancer (DKMS) is a worldwide campaign aimed at finding matches for those suffering from the disease.
According to the site, “Six out of 10 patients never receive the lifesaving transplant they need.”
A simple cotton swab to collect cheek cells is all it takes to determine if the tissue DNA is a match for a patient waiting for a transplant.
Although Knippel wasn’t a match for Brown’s second cousins, he was a match for someone waiting for a
“Having this happen to Reece, who I already know and respect, is just awesome,” Brown said. “He is the best person for that to happen to.”
Six months after the drive, Knippel opened his spam folder and saw an email from DKMS with the headline, “You’re a match!”
“It (my email) was probably thinking, ‘you’ve won something,’” Knippel said.
Though Knippel briefly questioned if going through with the donation would be worth his time and pain, he quickly pushed aside his thoughts and jumped in.
“I decided to go. It’s only a little bit of pain and suffering for me, but this could potentially save someone’s life,” Knippel said. “I understood how desperate a person gets at that point because if they can’t get a family member to donate, that’s normally the end of the line, sadly. It’s almost like a last ditch effort. It’s kind of a no brainer at
Brown added, “Reece was in it for the right reasons.”
The process began with a long, drawn-out day of tests to ensure that Knippel didn’t have any blood disorders or other ailments that might transfer to the recipient.
“They had to take a lot of blood from me … about 15 vials worth,” Knippel said.
Knippel had to undergo full physicals and more blood draws over the next few weeks to ensure he was 100 percent healthy.
The process hit a snag when the recipient, whose identity is still unknown, wasn’t healthy enough to receive the
“They basically have to break down the immune system and build it back up using my donated stem cells,” Knippel said.
In November 2013, four days before the donation, Knippel began daily injections, which increased the number of stem cells his bones would produce.
DKMS flew Knippel down to San Diego for the procedure. It is the closest hospital that is equipped to preform the donation.
The actual non-surgical procedure only took four hours and was relatively simple: A sterile needle extracts blood through one arm and into a machine that separates the stem cells and returns the filtered blood back into the
After the procedure, Knippel was able to resume his life.
While confidentiality prohibits Knippel from knowing much, he does know the recipient received the transplant and their body accepted his bone marrow.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again,” Knippel said.
Brown revealed that a second match from the October 2012 drive has been found.
“Typically, 1 in 100 are a match, but out of 115 people who attended the drive, we’ve had two matches,” Brown said.
Students who are interested in learning more about becoming donors are encouraged to visit www.deleteblood