Editor’s note: This article was written by David Tisdale. https://www.usm.edu/news/2023/release/piland-stem-cells.php
Jack Piland was merely setting a good example when he swabbed his cheek while staffing a tabling event for his fraternity’s philanthropy, Be The Match®, early in the fall 2023 semester on The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Hattiesburg campus.
Be The Match® identifies itself as a “global leader in bone marrow transplantation, conducting research to improve transplant outcomes, provide support and resources for patients, and partner with a global network.” Operated by the National Marrow Donor Program ® (NMDP), Be The Match® has for 35 years managed the most diverse marrow registry in the world, working daily to save lives through transplant. Thousands of people diagnosed every year with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma benefit from its efforts.
Be the Match is an organization that finds stem cell matches for people who are in critical conditions medically and need stem cells and/or bone marrow. Around 29% of patients find a match and get the treatment that saves their life.
Piland, a freshman marketing major from Hattiesburg, was helping his Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity brothers manage the tabling event at the R.C. Cook University Union, encouraging passersby to swab their cheek to see if they were a match for a person needing a stem cell transplant, while also providing information about the organization.
“I was there, helping out with my fraternity brothers and taking part in the swabbing, learning about the donation process and how rare it is to be a full match,” Piland recounted, further noting that approximately 29 percent of patients find a match and get the treatment they need.
“Mainly I just wanted to help and spend time with them, focusing on what we stand for – philanthropy. But I doubted I would be a donation match with a patient.”
In early November, Piland received correspondence from Be The Match® informing him he is indeed a match to provide someone in need of stem cells, specifically for a woman in Texas suffering from a challenging bone marrow disease.
“When I found out I was a match, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to help somebody in need,” Piland said, noting that the recipient must remain anonymous for now. “She has been fighting an incredibly hard battle against this disease, and I can only imagine the relief she and the rest of her family felt when told they found a match.
“I couldn’t be happier and more humbled through this process, and hope it works out perfectly. I’m not sure I’ll be meeting the patient, but regardless I’m overjoyed with being able to help.”
Piland says the process of further confirming and evaluating his ability to be a match has been quite intense, ranging from hours of phone calls with Be The Match® representatives and professionals and physical testing in Hattiesburg before leaving for Texas to make the donation. After answering his questions about the process and interviewing him for a verbal physical exam, blood testing and an in-person physical exam was conducted through Hattiesburg Clinic.
The next step is a waiting period through Dec. 29, when Piland is prepped and sent to Houston to donate through a peripheral blood stem cell transplantation procedure.
“This (blood stem) is where they put a needle in one arm to retrieve the red blood cells, which are processed in a machine and from which the stem cells are taken,” Piland explained. “The rest of the hemoglobin is then injected back in my other arm.”
The donation process takes four-five days, with Be The Match® paying all fees to include Piland’s flight to and accommodations in Houston. “Be The Match® has treated me incredibly well,” Piland said. “They are so easy to work with and a joy to be a part of.”
Laura Laughlin, executive director of student life at USM, praised Piland and his fraternity for their support of Be The Match®.
“When I was on campus for a football game this fall, I saw a group of SAE members tabling and collecting samples for Be The Match®,” Laughlin said. “When I went over to talk to them, they told me about Jack’s story and that he’d received notification that morning he was selected as a match with a patient. I loved hearing an example of how fraternity membership can do such good in the world.
“I’m excited to talk to Jack once he gets back from Texas, and to continue to see the impact his fraternity’s chapter has through its philanthropic work.”
And it’s not lost on Piland that his donation comes during the season of giving.
“That my donation falls around the holidays is ironic and amazing,” Piland said. “I hope my experience with Be The Match® sets an example for others. Swabbing and donating have been one of the best moments in my life, and I want others to experience the same thing.”