Boosting bone marrow registrations by walking across “Amarrowca”

May 5, 2016 | by City of Hope

jared reichbaum - bmt donorIt was the swab that started a movement. At City of Hope’s 2014 Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Reunion, Jared Reichbaum registered to donate bone marrow or stem cells through Be The Match, a decision that changed his life, and potentially, the lives of countless others.

Jared was at the reunion to support his friend and City of Hope patient Joselyn Miller, who received a bone marrow transplant in 2012 after being diagnosed with Shulman’s syndrome and aplastic anemia. Jared decided then and there he would walk across America – or “A-marrow-ca,” as he came to call it – to register potential donors.

“I thought, ‘Why hadn’t I heard of this before,’” Jared said of his idea. “A simple cotton swab to the cheek and a few minutes of paperwork and I can find out if I’m a match to save someone’s life? And it doesn’t hurt? Why wouldn’t I register? Why wouldn’t anyone?”

Jared learned that one in every 540 people who are match-tested eventually save a life as a donor of bone marrow or stem cells. But less than 3 percent of eligible Americans are registered. Inspired by his friend’s story of survival and the ease of his own donation experience, he got trained by Be The Match professionals, filled a rolling cart full of swab kits, put on his most comfortable walking shoes, and hit the road.

His goal was to register at least 540 people, so that, statistically speaking, one of them would go on to save someone’s life. Jared walked for seven months, over highways, dirt roads and corn fields; in the rain, heat and snow; through the desert and over mountains.

By the end of his walk – more than 2,800 miles – Jared had registered 600 donors. He tells his story in a documentary, Walking Across Amarrowca, which he plans to complete by August. Joselyn Miller, who was treated by Pablo Parker, M.D., and Stephen Forman, M.D., has been healthy for four years since her brother Leason’s stem cell donation.

Joselyn and her family will once again be at this year’s 40th Bone Marrow Transplantation Reunion. For Jared – who is joining his friend again at the May 6 event – this is where it all began, where a contribution became a cause.

Read more about Jared’s cross-country adventure on his blog, and Joselyn’s personal journey beating cancer on her website.

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Pictured: Jared Reichbaum, "walking across Amarrowca"

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