Q&A: Shane Joseph, College Sophomore and Bone Marrow Transplant Recipient

Madeline Stocker, News Editor

On Wednesday March 12, Joseph will assist the College with a bone marrow transplant drive. Consisting only of a cheek swab and several pieces of paperwork, bone marrow drives have saved hundreds of lives around the worlds — including Joseph’s.

You are assisting in a bone marrow drive, and you’re helping because you’ve had experience with bone marrow transplants. Could you talk about that cause?

This particular drive is for the registry with the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, so it’s only asking people to register their information and provide a cheek swab so that can be entered into the national database and see if it’s a match for anyone. Mary Gavin is running it; she was inspired to do this because a friend and colleague of hers was diagnosed with a type of leukemia. Other people are joining because it’s a good cause, or whatever reason of their own. Personally I’m joining because of my own experience. My dad was a lymphoma and leukemia patient who had a transplant; he actually passed in April in 2012. So it’s a cause I care about, and a cause I believe saved my life.

For readers who aren’t fully aware of why bone marrow transplants are necessary, can you explain what type of people need them, and how they can indirectly save lives?

[For] people with blood diseases — a lot of the time the disease attacks their ability to make new blood cells, which is what your bone marrow does. So that’s a lot of leukemia and lymphoma patients. I actually have aplastic anemia — it’s not a cancer, but it’s a disease of the bone marrow or a blood disease, and it basically shuts down your bone marrow production. It’s not hereditary, it’s not brought on by any particular behavior or exposure to anything — it just kind of happens. Sometimes it just goes away in younger people, sometimes they have a different type of treatment that they use, but that didn’t work for me, so I needed a transplant.

What happens to the body when it can’t produce bone marrow?

If you’re not producing bone marrow, you’re not producing white cells to fight infection, red cells to carry oxygen or platelets to help you heal. Some people who need transplants just need one of those functions; none of mine were working. I had started my sophomore year in 2011 here at Oberlin when I just had a sore throat, that turned into a fever, that turned into a higher fever… just normal sick things. I went to the emergency clinic twice, and twice they gave me an antibiotic, but the third time, I went back and they finally took blood and found that all of my counts were low.

What would a bone marrow transplant be like for the person who is giving the transplant?

After the drive, you would find out whether or not you are a match for someone. That can take up to several years; they just keep it on file. When you find a match, you would go in, get a physical, get a bunch of different interviews about your medical history. And then when you actually start the process, it’s a month-long process where you get a couple shots of a medication that boosts your bone marrow production. Then the final step is to do a four-hour-long blood draw, and then they use that for the transplant. That’s actually one of two ways; for younger children with bone marrow issues, they usually go directly for the bone marrow of the donor, in which case you’re given local anesthetics and they take a small sample of bone marrow from your pelvic bone. It’s just in and out the same day with just a Band-Aid.

I know with blood types, there are only a few options. With bone marrow is it easier or harder to find a match?

It’s much harder. The reason they need to take a cheek swab is to get your DNA. Your donor can have a different blood type than the recipient; mine did. So I am now A positive instead of B positive.

Is there anything you’d like people to know about the drive?

About the drive — it takes so little, but it can mean the world to someone. To someone’s family. It’s possible to have less than an 100 percent match, even, and they’d still take it — because it’s almost impossible to find a match, and matches save lives. The more people who know that it’s not a long, horrible, painful process for them, then I think the more reason for them to come. So stop by the Science Center — it won’t take long!