Hundreds of members of the Southeastern community have chosen to make life-saving gifts by donating bone marrow to unknown patients. Here is just one of their stories.
BY SHERI GIBSON
During Homecoming Week 2013, Southeastern student Alika Jones made a choice that would eventually save a life—and inspire countless others to do the same. At a tent set up near Friendship Circle for recruiting potential bone marrow donors, she participated in a quick mouth swab to register for the donor database, setting herself on a life-altering path.
Southeastern’s campaign to help increase the donor database and matches started the year before, when beloved alumna Robin Roberts announced she would be receiving a bone marrow transplant to combat bone marrow myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Her sister Sally-Ann Roberts, long-time WWL-TV anchor, was able to provide the needed bone marrow for her, but for many others finding a match isn’t so easy. In fact, around 70 percent of patients have to rely on anonymous donors.
When Southeastern administration heard what Robin would be going through, they jumped into action to show their support for her all along the way. A campaign called Swabbin’ for Robin was launched in partnership with Be the Match, a national bone marrow donor registry and program, with events spanning over the course of the next year. Students turned out in droves in honor of Robin and to help others who they have never met.
“We did this because Robin had to have bone marrow and to support her,” said Vice President for University Advancement Wendy Lauderdale. “But there were so many students that came forward, like the story here today [of Alika Jones].”
In total, 140 people from the 2012-2013 drive were matched with patients, helping them live long into the future.
Alika was in this number. It can often take years for a match to be made, and about five years later she received a call. There was a teenage boy, Josiah Knight, who needed her help.
Although facing some health obstacles of her own, Alika was determined to do what she could for this family she had never even met. “Being a mother made me want to do it even more,” she said.
Another five years later she had the opportunity to talk to Josiah and his mom, Keesha Wilson, for the first time. “Just speaking with his mother, hearing everything she went through, made me feel so good to know I was able to help them,” Alika said. “It was overwhelming.”
“I’m very appreciative of how Southeastern worked with Be the Match to set up the drive, and of the love that they still have for Robin and others,” she added.
This February, in honor of 10 years since Robin’s own bone marrow transplant, another drive was held on campus in partnership with Be the Match and Good Morning America (GMA). And with it came a special surprise for Alika.
On the court of the University Center, where Robin once played, Alika was seated for an interview with the GMA crew about her own experience donating. Then at the end, some special guests walked in: now 20-year-old Josiah and his family. They had flown in from California just to finally share their gratitude with Alika in person.
“I’ll appreciate her for the rest of my life. Have a bond with her for the rest of my life,” said Keesha, after the emotional, heartfelt meeting. “Josiah is so happy now.”
Their story was later broadcast across the country, inspiring others to participate as well. And that same day on Southeastern’s campus, students and other members of the University community once again turned out to give back—with over 230 new registrants added to the Be the Match database.
“Be aware, find out, because you could save a life too,” said Keesha. “And you don’t even know whose life you could be saving.”