USC employee leads bone marrow drive

Elizabeth Jordan saved a life, and now she is looking to save hundreds more.

When Jordan — now coordinator of on-campus programs at USC’s Career Planning & Placement Center — first decided to join the bone marrow registry in 2002, she was told she wasn’t a match at that time and she soon forgot about the registry altogether.

Donating · Elizabeth Jordan became close with the recipient of her donated bone marrow, and is now hosting a bone marrow drive at USC. - Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy  | Daily Trojan

Donating · Elizabeth Jordan became close with the recipient of her donated bone marrow, and is now hosting a bone marrow drive at USC. - Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy | Daily Trojan

But five years later, Jordan was contacted by the City of Hope cancer center and told she was a possible match for a woman with acute myeloid leukemia. Jordan decided to donate. One year later, she met the woman who had received her marrow, Rhonda Christensen, and was immediately welcomed into the family.

“I could tell she was a caring, kind person,” Christensen said. “Without Elizabeth, I wouldn’t be here. She’s a part of the family; it’s like we adopted her.”

Now, the two are a hosting a bone marrow drive at USC, hoping to save more lives and spark more lifelong relationships. The drive which will take place on Trousdale Parkway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday near Tommy Trojan.

Christensen has hosted drives twice before, but for Jordan, this is her first. She said she is excited to bring a bone marrow drive to USC.

“It’s my new passion, educating everyone,” Jordan said. “Particularly college students. It’s been the greatest gift I’ve ever given or received. It’s been so magical, and I want people to know that.”

Though Jordan’s case is rare — donors and their recipients seldom meet, and almost never do they become as close as Jordan and Christensen — Jordan can think of many other reasons students should participate in the drive.

Jordan stressed not only the simplicity of joining the registry, but of the entire donation process. By filling out a simple health questionnaire and having their cheek swabbed, people can join the bone marrow registry, which is all that will be done at USC’s drive this Friday.

Donors must be 18 to 60 years old and in generally good health with plans on remaining committed to being in the registry. After the swab, potential donors are entered into a database that searches for possible genetic matches, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few decades.

“With the advances in technology, it’s as easy as having an IV in one arm and the other,” said Pablo Ortiz De Urbina, a senior majoring in music performance and a volunteer for this week’s drive. “It takes so little of your time; it’s three hours that saves a life.”

Jordan said she is concerned potential donors may be scared away by the myths associated with bone marrow transplants, since many people believe the procedure is more painful than it is. According to the National Marrow Donor Program’s website, one form of donating marrow uses anesthesia, however, so the donor feels nothing. The other form is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure that is as easy as donating blood. Pieces of bone are not removed and though there may be a short recovery time, there are rarely any long-term effects from donating.

“Talking to Rhonda and hearing from a recipient’s point of view, talking to someone who’s been so brave, who has survived such an ordeal, just to hear it, it’s really powerful,” Jordan said.

She also encourages people of different ethnicities to join the bone marrow registry. Of the patients who have received transplants, an overwhelming majority are white. Because close genetic matches are needed, it’s important that all people, especially people who are black, Hispanic or Asian, join the registry.

The drive will be sponsored by Be the Match, City of Hope’s national marrow donor program. A Facebook group named “Join the Marrow Registry at USC” has also been created to promote the event.