Nu Alpha Kappa fraternity’s annual bone marrow registration drive may have helped save the life of a 17-year-old terminal leukemia patient.
Felipe Infante, a 23-year-old fourth-year global studies and political science major, underwent a 90-minute operation to extract a quart of bone marrow from his lower spine. The marrow was then transplanted to a girl in Southern California suffering from leukemia. Infante stayed overnight in the hospital after the procedure, and he said the exchange and transplant had been a success and the recipient is doing well.
“It really impacts me to know that the recipient will remember me every single day she is alive,” he said.
In 2000, Infante registered as a potential donor at his fraternity’s community service bone marrow drive. A transplant coordinator from the San Bernardino chapter of the American Red Cross contacted Infante last March and asked him to undergo further testing at the Pasadena, Calif., branch of the Red Cross.
“It was my mother who first received the call. She was really hesitant to tell me because she was concerned about how the procedure would affect my health,” Infante said. “She eventually told me because she did not want to hinder me from making an impact in someone’s life.”
After extensive blood testing, Infante was told that he was a match.
“When the coordinator called me, she said that the recipient had been looking for a match for two years,” Infante said. “At first I was nervous and scared about the procedure. But when she told me that the recipient had a greater chance of winning the lottery than finding a match, I knew I had to go through with it.”
Infante went into surgery April 24 at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where he was put under general anesthesia while doctors extracted bone marrow from his lower spinal cord. Infante said the operation left him with a half-inch-long scar and a week of fatigue. Prior to the procedure, hormones were injected into his system to cultivate bone, leaving him too weak to attend class for a week after the exchange.
“It was painful, but definitely worth it,” he said. “Donating my bone marrow gave me a genuine altruistic feeling. The event gave me a feeling of accomplishment and a newfound appreciation for life.”
Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside bones; in certain bones, the marrow contains stem cells that produce both red and white blood cells. Patients with diseases such as leukemia, aplastic anemia and certain cancers have stem cells that malfunction, producing excessive amounts of defective blood cells, according to the Blood & Marrow Transplant Network’s website. These defective cells interfere with the production of normal cells, build up in the bloodstream and invade other tissues.
Chemotherapy not only destroys the defective stem cells, but the healthy cells as well. Bone marrow transplants allow doctors to perform chemotherapy while replacing the destroyed cells with healthy ones. In a bone marrow transplant, healthy marrow is infused into the patient’s bloodstream. The ideal donor’s marrow matches the recipient’s genetic makeup as closely as possible.
According to the Nation Marrow Donor Program’s website, minorities are especially encouraged to register as bone marrow donors, since most patients find matches in their racial or ethnic group.
“Minority groups are underrepresented in the registry, causing difficulty for a minority to find a match,” Infante said. “Caucasians have a 1/100 chance of finding a match. Latinos have a 1/100,000 chance. African-Americans have a 1/500,000 chance. That is why we really need those particular groups to come out and sign up.”
As for his own marrow donor experience, Infante said he was happy to have the chance to help somebody.
“My friends and family might call me a hero, but I have to disagree,” Infante said. “The real heroes are the coordinators that find the matches and the patients that are fighting life-threatening diseases.”
Nu Alpha Kappa will hold another bone marrow drive May 12 at Santa Barbara City College along with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Chi Delta Theta sorority, said Nu Alpha Kappa President Miguel Lopez. The event is sponsored through the Red Cross and targets blacks, Latinos and Asians as potential donors.
“The bone marrow drive is a great opportunity to register potential donors. There is a great need for minorities to donate bone marrow,” Lopez said.
Lopez said Infante and one other member of the fraternity have donated marrow through the drive.
“I think it is awesome to know that two members of Nu Alpha Kappa have directly saved two lives,” he said. “I hope that more people will register as potential donors.”