Bone marrow registration drive Thursday, Sept. 26

After registering four years ago, graduate student Nick Miller recently donated stem cells to a leukemia patient

Yes, English graduate student Nick Miller joined the bone marrow registry to honor his grandfather, who died of leukemia when Miller was a boy.

But the primary reason he registered was because it was easy.

“There is a family connection to a lot of the different blood cancers and maybe subconsciously that motivated me,” said Miller, who registered at a campus drive four years ago. “But at the time I thought, ‘So I can stop for a second, get my cheek swabbed and potentially save someone’s life? Why wouldn’t I do that?’”

Miller learned this year he was, indeed, a match. He returned just two weeks ago from Georgetown University Hospital, where he donated stem cells and plasma. All he knows about the recipient is that she’s a woman, 42, lives abroad and suffers from leukemia. He hopes she’s responding to treatment, though in a way, it doesn’t matter.

“I still would have done it,” said Miller. “It’s worth trying regardless.”

Students, faculty and staff have an opportunity to join the national marrow registry Be The Match at the Washington University Marrow Registry drive Thursday, Sept. 26. Registrants must be U.S. citizens and ages 18 to 45. Bone marrow donors are needed to help patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases.

After registering, Miller received emails from time to time confirming his contact information. But not until this spring did the registry find a potentional match. Miller took additional blood tests and then, five days before his scheduled procedure, received daily injections to stimulate his stem cell production. On Sept. 2, Be The Match flew Miller to Washington, D.C., for the procedure. The organization also paid for his lodging, transportation and meals.

“I wouldn’t have been able to finance that trip myself, but they took care of everything,” Miller said. “After I confirmed the dates, I got a FedEx package with all of my flight information, the car service that was picking me up at the airport, who was going to pick me up in the lobby to make sure I got to the procedure. They were very meticulous.”

The procedure itself took several hours but was relatively painless. In the past, bone marrow donors underwent surgery. Today most donors, like Miller, have their blood drawn by a machine which siphons off the stem cells and plasma.

“It’s nowhere near as invasive,” Miller said. “There was one other donor at the same time and we kept on jokingly saying it was going to be a race to see who was going to finish first.”

The next day, Miller’s stem cells flew one way and Miller flew the other. He was back in St. Louis in time to teach his Rodriguez Scholars freshmen seminar, “Latino/a Experiences in the United States.” The entire trip took about 48 hours.

“In a way it seems silly that I didn’t do this earlier,” Miller said. “It was a pretty minimal sacrifice from me to potentially save someone’s life.”

Washington University Marrow Registry Club Bone Marrow Drive

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at Lopata Hall Gallery and 5-7:30 p.m. at Ursa’s Stageside
More information: