Illustration by Caetano Santos

Rain didn’t stop any of the 200 people who funneled pen in hand into the Namaste Lounge last year to get their cheeks swabbed and join the Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

The registration drive returns this year, welcoming the public on Feb. 1 from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Namaste Lounge of College Nine and at the Red Room of College Eight. Rain or shine, the work of over 90 student volunteers culminates in this charitable event.

Volunteer students engage in poster-making, tabling, fundraising, event-awareness efforts and working the actual event, all in hopes of saving the lives of cancer patients.

For the past two years, associate college administrator Sarah Woodside has worked with student volunteers and donor recruitment coordinator for the German Bone Marrow Donation Center (DKMS) Americas, Erika Toto. DKMS is the world’s largest bone marrow donation center.

Registration does not guarantee bone marrow donation, Woodside said. If DKMS contacts a registrant as a possible match, he or she can choose to proceed with the preliminary blood test. If this test proves successful, he or she then chooses whether to donate.

“If you are found to be a match,” Toto said, “you’ll be asked to donate in one of two ways based on the patient’s need. Registrants should be comfortable with both ways.”

The first way uses an intravenous in one arm to circulate blood through an apheresis machine, then bone marrow stem cells are taken out and blood recirculates into the body via the other arm. It accounts for approximately 75 percent of all donations, according to DKMS.

“The first method is very similar to if you were to donate platelets at a blood drive,” Toto said.

The second method is pelvic bone marrow extraction. A patient is anesthetized to sleep, then a doctor inserts a small, hollow syringe into the side of their pelvis — not the spine — to extract bone marrow stem cells. It accounts for approximately 25 percent of donations according to DKMS.

“There is residual soreness from this [the second] procedure,” Toto said. “But it’s not anywhere near as horrifying as Hollywood would like you to think. It’s the way most people think they understand but don’t, and freak out about, and that’s the [pelvic] bone marrow extraction.”

Woodside said students come both to register and make their voice heard each year. A committee of three staff members and three students planned the registration drive this year, however, in total 96 volunteers have taken part in this year’s event.

“On the day of the event, the students really run it,” Woodside said. “I am there to tell people which table to volunteer at, but without students it wouldn’t be possible.”

Fourth-year and College Nine community assistant Amanda Timoney worked alongside Woodside and volunteered for all three years of the registration drive. She said her motivation to help others comes partly from differences she saw during a stay in Ghana. There she learned to value college education, along with knowledge provided by public resources such as the internet.

“If I had a chance to save someone’s life,” Timoney said, “I’d do it in a second.”

Woodside said she noticed a charitable mindset in Timoney and other college students.

“Typically, I find that students are just way more open,” Woodside said.

For Woodside, the Bone Marrow Registration Drive exemplifies why college students gravitate toward charitable events.

“I would say for sure that with this generation of students, information is more readily accessible,” Woodside said. “Information is starting to get out there, particularly around bone marrow registration — that it isn’t painful, and students are in a position where they’re open to hearing about it.”

Woodside said students accept bone marrow donation partly because of accessibility of knowledge. She said the tendency for college students to research a subject combines with openness to new ideas and ability to form personal connections.

“I was talking with my advisor Sarah Woodside,” said fourth-year Ryan Maher. “And I heard her and her mother’s experience firsthand. Hearing her mother’s fight with cancer motivated me to register.”

Woodside contrasts college student acceptance of bone marrow donation with critiques from prior generations.

“Folks that were in an older generation have these myths, and they watched ‘Spinal Tap’ the movie, you know,” Woodside said. “And they think that’s how it’s gonna be… [but] students don’t come in with that, and so they learn ‘oh, this isn’t a painful thing,’ and they’re open to the learning and education around it.”

DKMS donor recruitment coordinator Erika Toto reported that after two years, the UC Santa Cruz registration event has led to 13 potential matches and three students who actually donated bone marrow to patients in need.

For those three successful donations, work was put in for registering roughly 760 students.

But in the first year, Woodside saw the spirit of giving.

“The first year we had a whole class of students who were studying the human genome project, and the whole class came and got registered as part of class [time]… This is how we genetically can help each other out, and so the whole class walked up and registered.”