June 16, 2016
Athletes can often be praised for things that don’t show up in the scorebook. That holds true for South Carolina track and field student-athlete Bryce Simpson. The rising sophomore recently helped save a life after making a bone marrow donation.
“It definitely is surreal,” Simpson said. “I never pictured that something like this would happen to me. It’s definitely a humbling experience to have something in your body that can save the life of another. It’s humbling to give just a little part of your body and have it make such a big difference to someone else and their family and friends. I would do it again tomorrow in a heartbeat.”
“He truly saved somebody’s life,” said Ashley Collier, Senior Community Engagement Representative for Be The Match, which is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. “What he basically did is give this person his immune system. He may have been the only donor for this patient, so had he not answered the call, that patient may not have been able to survive. Does that mean they are completely in remission? Not always, but without what he did, they would have no options.”
Be The Match assists patients who have blood cancers or blood disorders get a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
Simpson put his name on the national registry while he and other members of the track and field team volunteered at an event last November in the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center on campus. The idea for the event came from a former teammate who was fighting a blood disease.
“We were really there just to volunteer, but we ended up going through it while we were there,” Simpson said. “At the time, I never thought I’d get called. It came as a surprise”
He signed up in November and donated at the end of May. The Mechanicsville, Va., native had never even donated blood before, but he had no reservations about being bone marrow donor.
“At that point, I guess I didn’t think about myself too much,” Simpson said. “I just thought about the bigger picture and how someone else needed it more than I did.”
For a lot of patients who have blood disorders, finding a donor is the only option they have.Ashley Collier, Be The Match
“When Bryce told me he had received a phone call, and that he was a match, I wasn’t surprised that he would do it because that is kind of who he is,” said assistant coach Kevin Brown. “He’s an easy going guy who just fit in well with everyone on the team when he got here. He is always involved and willing to do things for the benefit of the group.”
Signing up to be a bone marrow donor simply requires filling out a form and a quick swab inside the cheek with a Q-tip, and that puts you on the national registry of approximately 13 million people.
“That sounds like a lot of people, but that’s only two percent of the U.S. population,” Collier said. “It’s about a 1-in-70,000 chance of finding a match. Because it is so hard to match people, you have to have a lot of people on there. Patients search that list to find someone who matches them genetically. It’s not about your blood type. So this person that Bryce donated to was genetically identical to him. It’s basically a genetic twin, but they are not related. They’re strangers. So when Bryce donates, it could only go to that person. For a lot of patients who have blood disorders, finding a donor is the only option they have.”
Bryce went through a series of tests to make sure that he was indeed the best match. Once that is confirmed, there are two ways in which a donation can be made.
“The most common way is through a stem cell donation, which is kind of like giving blood in that we take blood and filter out stem cells which flow in your blood stream,” Collier said. “That happens about 75 percent of the time and is not overly invasive. It is a slow process which can take three to five hours.”
“Bryce did the least common of the two. He donated the marrow. For this, the doctors puncture or aspirate the bone and get marrow out. Marrow produces these stem cells. This is a general anesthesia surgery. Generally, they take around a pint. It does replenish itself (in the donor), and you can’t get any kind of disease by having less marrow because you produce so much anyway.”
When it was time for the procedure to be done, Bryce worked around his athletics schedule to make the donation, which meant working around competitions such as the SEC Championships.
“It didn’t cause any complications with that,” Simpson said. “We went to SECs and then we came back. Then I had about a week and a half and had the procedure done.”
There are no long term effects from the procedure, although Simpson admits he was sore for a few days afterwards. The transplants can be more painful for the recipients receiving treatments as they may be awake during those procedures. Collier noted that it is a quick turnaround from the time the bone marrow is donated and when the patient receives it.
“When Bryce donated, his donation was taken that same day to the patient,” Collier said. “So the patient had it within 24 hours of the donation. It goes very quickly. It doesn’t sit in storage.”
Due to privacy regulations, the donor and recipient won’t know much about each other and wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak to each other until a full year after the procedure has passed.
“Bryce will not know very much about the person he donated to,” Collier said. “He will have the opportunity to receive and send correspondence, but anything that would pinpoint who or where that person is located is redacted. After a year, Bryce and the recipient will have a chance to communicate with each other if they both consent. Right now all he would know is the gender, age and what type of disease the patient had. All they know about him is his gender and age.”
Collier noted that they don’t want people to just sign up to be on the registry, but they also want people who are prepared to say yes if they are asked to donate.
“Bryce has a lot of things going on, and for him to go ahead and do this is just great,” Collier said. “That’s the kind of people we want. He did it, and he would do it again. What he did, it was definitely life-saving.”
Anyone interested in putting their name on the national registry as a bone marrow donor can visit https://join.bethematch.org/gamecocks.