Saving Lives One Swab at a Time: Meet Jen Magi

Did you know that just swabbing your cheek could potentially save a life? Gift of Life (GOL) is an incredible organization that hosts drives all over the country to find genetic bone marrow matches for those afflicted with various blood cancers and blood disorders. This organization works with the ever-growing global bone marrow registry to continue finding genetic matches for patients.

Jen Magi, the ambitious President of GOL at FSU, shares her story on how she became involved and how the organization has grown.

Her Campus (HC): When did you begin involvement with GOL?

Jen Magi (JM): I became involved with Gift of Life after my dad got diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia about a year and a half ago, October 2017. His case came out of nowhere and it was really shocking to me to see how cancer really can hit anyone and you never know when. We are very blessed that the type of cancer he got “lucky” with is the only one with a well-established cure: a bone marrow transplant.

HC: Could you explain how a much-needed transplant like this is obtained?

JM: In order for the bone marrow transplant to happen, there must be someone registered in the global bone marrow donor registry who is his perfect match. A match requires many different genetic qualities to align and is very hard to find with how small and not diverse the registry currently is. Since a match is hereditary, we tested all the family, hoping one of us could be the one to save his life. None of us did, though, and the search through the registry began as we had to rely on a stranger like 70% of patients in need of a transplant must do. It turns out my dad has 3 matches registered, which is extremely rare, and the doctor had the opportunity to select the most closely aligned and healthiest match.

HC: Could you give me an overview of the process to join the registry as a donor?

JM: To join the registry, there is a 2-minute online registration process consisting of a health questionnaire and personal contact information entry. Then a 30-second cheek swab completes the registration process, so your DNA can be sent to a lab to be tested for the qualities of interest for a bone marrow match.

HC: What happens if you become a match?

JM: Eighty percent of transplants are done through a process called apheresis which is similar to donating platelets: blood comes out one arm, excess blood stem cells are removed, and the blood returns to the other arm. The other twenty percent of donations are through bone marrow extractions from the hip bone which can be done under complete or local anesthesia as determined by you and your doctor. All that is required to register is a cheek swab, then you are in the registry until your 61st birthday with a very very low chance of ever getting the call to donate. The registry is completely voluntary at every step of the process, even if you register and change your mind.

A GOL drive with Phi Delta Epsilon on Landis  

 

HC: Could you tell me more about how you kicked off GOL at FSU and about your first drive?

JM: As soon as we learned about the transplant process and bone marrow registry, I reached out to the Gift of Life Marrow Registry to begin running donor registration drives on FSU’s campus. I ran my first drive on campus in January 2018 and swabbed 131 people that first semester, tabling at a handful of events around campus. In Fall 2018, I founded Gift of Life at FSU as an official registered student organization, giving presentations to numerous clubs on campus and registering about 350 people.

HC: How many total people have been added to the registry since you began?

JM: Since starting the project, I have added over 1,022 people to the registry, with a handful of them already receiving the call of being a potential match.

HC: Other than the personal connection to the cause with your father, how has your involvement in GOL at FSU impacted you?

JM: While other philanthropic projects have been fulfilling points of growth as well, working with Gift of Life has uniquely expanded my perspective and strengthened my commitment to pursuing a career of service as I personally received the unforgettable generosity of a volunteer in the face of devastation. I am more determined than ever to continue making a difference throughout my life as a humanitarian.

Jen has recently been selected as the FSU College of Engineering’s 2019 Humanitarian of the Year. Her ability to found and grow GOL as an organization at FSU has not only set her apart as a selfless leader but has also made a great dent in expanding the number of donors on the global registry.

Jen at a GOL drive on campus  

 

To become involved in GOL at FSU, email Jen at [email protected].

Follow GOL’s Instagram: @golatfsu

Follow GOL’s Facebook: Gift of Life at Florida State University (@giftoflifefsu)

All photos courtesy of Jen Magi.