Dr. Jason Warnick, associate professor of psychology, has partnered with Dr. Julie Mikles-Schluterman to organize a record-breaking bone marrow drive.
A year ago, Warnick said he would have never guessed this would be happening. When working on a book project, he asked a well-known researcher to write the forward for it. She agreed, to his surprise. Three months into the project, she backed out. She had a reoccurrence of leukemia. Warnick said he didn’t understand the depth of the situation.
“I asked why they didn’t do a bone marrow transplant. In my ignorance, I thought this was something like the Red Cross does, like they have banks of this stuff,” Warnick said.
The researcher had been looking for a match for 11 years but never found one. She died within six months.
“It was one of the most helpless feelings a family could experience,” Warnick. This sparked Warnick’s passion.
He began to research about bone marrow. With blood, there are only a handful of types. But with bone marrow, there are millions. When searching for a donor, patients have to have a perfect match.
Upon this revelation, Warnick wanted to organize a bone marrow drive to say he helped with the cause.
“I looked up ‘bone marrow drive,’ and the first picture that popped up was of a backyard barbeque. There was a person holding a turkey leg and another with a cheek swab in his mouth,” Warnick said. “It wasn’t what I thought a bone marrow drive would look like.”
They call these events “swabbing parties.”
Warnick contacted Be the Match, a bone marrow registry, and it provided training and supplies for free. It suggested he start a chapter on campus, which was also free. There was no agenda — he could set his own goals.
“I couldn’t believe how easy it was,” Warnick said.
Warnick explained the process of donating bone marrow has changed.
When people hear about bone marrow donations, they automatically are scared. Unlike the past, bone marrow procedures are now spread out over a week. Seventy percent who donate go in for five days. The first four days, the donor receives a shot to boost his stem cell count. The fifth day, he undergoes a dialysis procedure with light sedation, Warnick said.
“It’s turned a major medical procedure to more or less an inconvenience,” Warnick said. “I’ve seen people go back to work and school the very next day.”
When planning this event, Warnick had no idea how big it would become. Mikles-Schluterman suggested breaking the world record for bone marrow registries. The current record is 2,976 people, which was in 2012 at a marathon in Germany. Warnick hopes to register at least 3,000.
Warnick contacted Be the Match again. They told Warnick that if he could get the support, they would provide the supplies. He contacted the dean of his department and of the school, and everyone was on board. There was immediately a team in place.
“From students all the way up to the board of trustees, everyone’s been on board,” Warnick said. “It speaks volumes that this is the centerpiece of that week. It’s heartwarming to see that.”
The bone marrow drive is a 24- hour event. It begins at 9 p.m. on April 14 and continues overnight until 9 p.m. the next day. It is no coincidence the drive is during the president’s inauguration week. Dr. David Ward, associate professor of psychology, had the idea and it was approved.
Every hour or two there is a change of events, such as a blacklight dance party, yoga, 3 a.m. donuts and selfies with the president.
For those who don’t want to participate in events, there are mobile booths to register at. Everyone who signs up will get a free t-shirt and a pass to go to all of the activities.
According to Warnick, education is the most important part of this event. Anyone who plays a role in this becomes the voice of every person who is struggling.
Breaking the record is important to Warnick, but the main goal is to save lives. Though only one out of every 500 participants will be contacted for a donation, that is one live saved.
“If we get 3,000 people to sign up, we save six lives,” Warnick said. “We can say that Arkansas Tech literally saved six lives during the president’s inauguration.”