Name: Liz Ball
What made you want to be involved with Be the Match?My favorite artist Andrew McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2005. Fortunately for him, his sister was found to be a match, and a short few months after his diagnosis, he received a stem cell donation from her. As a fan of Andrew McMahon’s, I was deeply touched by his story. But when I learned that most (about 70%) of patients are not as lucky as Andrew and do not have a matching donor in their family, I was overcome by a desire to help. After coming to Auburn, I found out that Auburn had a Be The Match On Campus chapter, so I got involved!
Can you tell us a bit more about the Be the Match and how it works? When you join the Be The Match registry, you’re joining a list of potential donors. Only around 1 in 540 people who join the registry actually go on to donate. This is because you only donate if you are a match for a patient in need and because matches need to be incredibly precise. Because matches are so specific, it’s important for us to register as many people as possible so that every patient has a chance to match with someone. When you join at one of our registry drives, you just fill out some paperwork and do a cheek swab so that Be The Match can do tissue typing. From there, you might be a preliminary match for a patient based on your cheek cells. They’ll ask you to go into a doctor’s office to give a blood sample. From there, you may find out that you’re the best match for the patient, or you may find out that someone else is a better match. If you are lucky enough to be the best match for the patient, then you get to donate and save their life!! 80% of the time, donations are peripheral blood stem cells, much like donating plasma. It’s a non-surgical outpatient procedure that takes about 6-7 hours, and you’re back to your normal routine the next day! The other 20% of the time is the traditional marrow donation that everybody thinks of. However, it’s not at all like it is in Hollywood! Anesthesia is always used. This is a surgical procedure where marrow is removed from your hip bone. This doesn’t harm you or your bones, and your marrow will replace itself! This is an outpatient procedure, and while you will feel sore (it’s often compared to the feeling of hitting your hip on the corner of a table), you will be able to return to your normal routine. While marrow donation is more inconvenient than blood stem cell donation, the inconvenience is worth it because it is generally used for a child patient. With either donation method, you have given the gift of life, and a little bit of inconvenience for you means a lifetime for the patient.
What other things are you involved in on campus?I am also one of the founding members of Auburn’s chapter of Active Minds, which has the mission of changing the conversation about mental health. Our Active Minds chapter is one of the best in the country and, while still very new, has done amazing things and formed strong partnerships with other organizations on campus! I can’t wait to see what the chapter does in the future!
What has been the most exciting part of being so involved?The most exciting part for me is the incredible diversity of people I have been able to meet. Be The Match helps people from all walks of life, and our volunteers match that diversity. Our chapter members have a wide variety of majors and hometowns, and it has been a great experience working with an interdisciplinary team because everybody has a different perspective to contribute.
The Auburn chapter of Be the Match is one of the most successful in the Southeast! How did you build it from the ground up to a major level of success in such a short time?Our success in building our chapter so quickly is based on the incredible people we have on our team! At the beginning of the year, it was just me and my Vice President Amy Ragan. Amy is amazing, and I could have never done this without her. We also had a tremendous amount of support from our Be The Match representative, Rachel Harris. Rachel connects our chapter to Be The Match nationals, and she has been an invaluable resource for us. Once we started recruiting new chapter members, we got really lucky in having spectacular people come on board, and I’m so thankful for that!
What is the hardest part of being a leader in an organization? The hardest part for me has been remembering to take time for myself. I’m so passionate about Be The Match, and I want to set a good example for the people I am leading, so there have been many times where I have thrown myself completely into the cause. While this has produced some great work, it often comes with the cost of a lot added stress on myself. Learning to work hard while also making time for myself by delegating and stepping back has been one of the biggest lessons that I’ve started to learn this year.
What is the best part of being involved in a philanthropic organization? The best part is knowing that I am having a positive impact on the lives of others, and in Be The Match’s case, I am literally helping save lives. Two people who joined Fall 2013 went on to donate to patients in need Summer 2013, and two people from our Fall 2014 drive have donated as well! In addition, two people have told me in the last week that they have been contacted as a preliminary match. Knowing that I played a part in organizing these drives that have led to at least four lives saved is such an extraordinary feeling.
Any advice for students looking to get involved with Be the Match?Join us on AUInvolve! Once you’re a member on AUInvolve, you’ll get our email updates about our meetings and any events we’re planning. You can also follow us on social media @bethematchau! You can of course email the current President, Tori Recchio, whose contact information is on our AUInvolve page. If you’re interested in the cause, we’d love to answer have you on board to help us save lives!
What are your summer plans?After I graduate this week, I’ll be moving to Raleigh, NC to begin my professional career. While I will no longer be involved in Auburn’s Be The Match On Campus chapter, I know that I will stay connected to the cause!