Drive to win

UB football follows teammate’s lead to find bone marrow donors

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Junior linebacker Matt Otwinowski will undergo surgery next week, but not for an injury.

Otwinowski is donating bone marrow.

On Tuesday, he and other members of the football team tried to recruit more donors in the Student Union.

Every year over 17,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma and need a bone marrow transplant. The UB football team, in association with the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation and the Be The Match national bone marrow donor program, set up in the Student Union to get students to register as potential donors.

“Every three minutes in the country, someone is affected by a blood disorder,” said associate head coach Rob Ianello. “So through Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation and Be The Match, we are encouraging people to go into the bone marrow registry. We did this two years ago with most of our team and set up today to encourage the student community to get involved.”

Andy Talley is the former head coach of the Villanova football team and started his foundation in 2010 after learning about the odds of finding a bone marrow transplant.

The goal of the foundation is to increase the odds of finding lifesaving donors for patients in need of a marrow transplant.

As of today, 135 football programs across the country have registered over 100,000 donors.

On Tuesday, the team added over 100 new potential donors to the registry, according to Michael Garbin, a senior community engagement representative for Be the Match.

“It means a lot to be able to offer the opportunity to save a life to people on campus because we do have a guy on our team that’s in the midst of saving someone’s life right now,” said freshman linebacker Max Michel. 

In the United States, minorities have a harder time of finding a match in the registry. African Americans have only a 23% chance of finding a donor while members of the Hispanic and Latino community have a 46% chance due to low representation in the registry.

The majority of patients cannot find a donor through their family, either. There’s a 30% chance of finding a match through a sibling. If they don’t match, they will need to find an unrelated donor, like Otwinowski.

“Giving back to the community is a big part of our program, and what [Otwinowski] shows by what he’s doing is [that] he’s very selfless,” Ianello said.

“He’s an unbelievable guy,” said freshman running back Jaret Patterson. “His character speaks for itself. We need more guys like that on the team and in the world.”

When patients need marrow transplants, it means they have exhausted every other medical science resource, Garbin said. He said students that sign up to donate could be the last hope a patient has to a second chance at life.

In order to enter the registry, Be The Match mails a kit requiring potential donors to swab the inside of their cheeks for cells. Once donors mail back, they will be entered into the registry.

There is no prediction on the likelihood of donation. Some may be contacted in two weeks, two years or never. One in 430 members of the Be the Match registry will go on to donate.

“It’s pretty big because there’s not a lot of things that we do together,” Michel said. “It’s something that brings us close because it makes us all feel good and is something that anyone at the university can feel good doing as well.”

To be sent a kit to register, you can text CURE23 to 61474 for a link to sign up. 

Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson 

NATHANIEL MENDELSON


 Nathaniel Mendelson has been writing for The Spectrum since 2018, mainly covering football, men's basketball and softball. He currently works for The Buffalo News and has a daily article on buffalobills.com. Other responsibilities include managing the office fish tank.