Jim Hanrahan is alive because of Sarah Weber.
In March of 2014, Jim Hanrahan, a finance leader at a Denver firm, was diagnosed with a rare and unusually aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Despite immediately beginning chemotherapy treatments, Hanrahan’s leukemia refused remission. His doctors informed him that without a stem cell transplant, he would die. The first people a doctor turns to for potential stem cell donations are the patient’s immediate family. However, when it was discovered that none of Hanrahan’s four siblings’ blood types matched with his, the doctors turned to the registry to find a potential donor.
A numerical system is then used to match potential donors with the patient. Potential donors’ blood types are matched against the patient’s—a 10 out of 10 is a nearly perfect match, while a zero out of 10 is the least ideal match. Only one individual was found to be a 10 out of 10 match for Hanrahan. Her name was Sarah Weber.
Weber, 27, signed up to join the registry seven years prior at a college campus in Indiana. After undergoing detailed physical and blood examinations, she was verified to become Hanrahan’s donor. Her blood stem cells were sent to Hanrahan—who was at the time living in New Jersey—and transferred into his body through an IV. By December 2014, Weber’s immunity had “grown into” Hanrahan’s body, and he was completely devoid of leukemia.
Last year, Hanrahan celebrated his 60th birthday. Unbeknownst to him, his wife had planned a giant surprise party. As an even bigger surprise, Weber was in attendance. This was the first face-to-face meeting between Hanrahan and Weber. His eyes full of emotion, Hanrahan commented on the momentous occasion: it is “such a special thing to save a person’s life,” he said. “[The donor] makes a big difference in the world of [the patient].”
On Wednesday, CC held its first bone marrow donor registration drive from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first floor of the Worner Campus Center. According to the Daily Events Digest, “Students who wish to register will provide a sample cheek swab at [the donor table] in Worner, fill out some paperwork, and they’ll be put into the registry.” This event was conducted by the Wellness Resource Center, which partnered with BeTheMatch.org. Additionally, students also had the opportunity to meet Hanrahan.
What does it mean to become a bone marrow donor? While students did not actually donate bone marrow on Wednesday, they agreed that if henceforth, their human leukocyte antigen system (protein markers on cells) matched with a patient who is suffering from a disease such as leukemia or sickle cell anemia, treatable only by a stem cell transplant, they would be willing to donate bone marrow. Upon being matched the student would either donate through a peripheral blood stem cell process, or undergo surgery. PBSC collects blood-forming cells from the donor’s blood, while the surgical procedure draws liquid bone marrow from both sides of the donor’s pelvic bone. For a majority of the cases, PBSC is conducted. BeTheMatch.org requests for donors to be between 18 and 44 years of age, which is the ideal age for donation. Even so, according to BeTheMatch.org, registry members have a 1 in 430 chance of actually donating.
Hanrahan, inspired by Weber’s life-changing decision in college to join the registry, reached out to the Colorado College Student Life Division in October 2017 to suggest conducting a bone marrow donor drive at the college. After Wednesday’s drive, the Wellness Resource Center anticipates holding another later in the calendar year. Because individuals of mixed ethnic backgrounds are preferred as donors, and are more likely to be matched to a diverse range of patients, the Wellness Resource Center will show the movie “Mixed Matched” and possibly invite the producer of the film at their next drive.
It is important to note that BeTheMatch.org is simply one of many organizations affiliated with the registry. If one is already registered with a different donor organization, they are already included within the registry.
Sign up at http://Join.BeTheMatch.org/ColoradoCollege to become a donor if you were unable to attend the drive in-person.