Be the Match: How a simple cheek swab could help save a life

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Ten minutes and a little spit can help in a big way. UAHuntsville's College of Nursing and the Clearview Cancer Institute are hoping you can "Be the Match" for those fighting blood cancers.

When it comes to beating leukemia, the numbers are staggering and the need is great. Bone marrow transplants are the best bet for fighting the disease, but 70 percent of patients cannot find a match within their own families.

But a two-day drive for possible donors on the campus of UAH is hoping to help.

"You have the chance of saving someone's life and I think that's awesome," said nursing student Crystal Carrasquillo.

The drive is simply looking for folks to register to maybe, one day, be a bone marrow donor. But the effort, again, is a numbers game.

"Very few people become a match," said UAH Clinical Assistant Nursing Professor Tracy Durm.

In fact, the chances of a near perfect match are about 1 in 1,000, which is why 14,000 cancer patients still need a match, despite more than 12 million on the registry.

"I think everybody has been touched with cancer in one form or another," said Durm. "The process of going through treatments and things like that, especially when there is no hope, there's no one that can help you. There is no match. There is no one that can donate anything because there's just no hope, that's probably the worst."

But you can help beat the odds, one swab at a time.

The registration process is painless and relatively fast, taking only about 10 minutes.  Potential donors are asked to complete some paperwork and then undergo four cheek swabs. You must be between the ages of 18 and 44 to register and in good health.

If you match a patient in need of donation, the patient's insurance will pay all medical expenses.  The Be the Match registry will cover any necessary travel costs.

The drive will continue Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the UAH Charger Union Breezeway. If you would like to register online, click here.

The Be The Match drive is in memory of Leslie Vallely, who passed away after a long battle with leukemia in 2014. At the time of her death, Vallely was director of communications at CCI. While at CCI, Leslie founded Circle of Friends, a cancer support group for women in Marshall County, and was instrumental in establishing educational programs for all cancer patients in the Tennessee Valley. Her successful career in the field of communications spanned more than three decades. Prior to her employment at CCI, Vallely served as the public service director for WHNT-TV Channel 19, and as public relations director for Hospice Family Care in Huntsville.