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K-State Today

April 4, 2012

Spitting image: Saliva could make two K-State Salina students heroes

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

K-State Salina students

It was no big deal to swab a cheek and give some spit a few months ago. After all, the odds of one's spit matching someone else's are less than 1 percent. But now, two Kansas State University Salina students have been asked to give a lot more than saliva.

In December 2011 the campus' chapter of Students In Free Enterprise encouraged students to swap some spit for the chance to win a $500 scholarship. The Give a Spit campaign, orchestrated through Do Something and DKMS, was the organization's way of giving back by helping build the national database of bone marrow donors to help save the lives of people with bone or blood cancers.

But when the students were contacted about being matched to patients two weeks ago, both were surprised.

"They said it was extremely rare to be contacted at all, even more rare that I had been contacted after being on the list for such a short amount of time," said Matt Lambky, sophomore in professional pilot, Towanda. "But when I went to get the blood work done, they told me I was the third sample they'd taken for this."

One of the other two matches was Travis Balthazor, junior in professional pilot, Palco.

"I won't lie; I was hesitant about signing up at first, but the student running the booth told me what it was about and that I would most likely never get called. A recipient must be your identical DNA twin for the procedure to work," he said. "I decided to get swabbed, thinking that I would never get called – but that if I did, it would be pretty neat."

Knowing that there was such a small chance of being an identical match to someone in need of a donor, Balthazor wasn't expecting the news he received while at an aviation conference.

"I was told there was a 39-year-old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and that we were a match," he said. "I was told that this is something I might want to take some time and talk to my friends and family about. So I did, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I didn't go through with this I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing that someone is out there dying that I can help."

The blood work required drawing six vials of blood from the donor to test against the patient's blood, all to make sure they were perfect identical genetic twins and that the initial match wasn't a false positive.

"I got an email saying I was a match and if I wanted to continue that I should contact them," Bathazor said. "They asked me some questions, and then had me fill out some paperwork. As far as I know, I'm the only match for this patient. But there are a few other databases out there, so I don't really know how many other possible matches there are or much about the person in need," he said.

The blood work can take up to six weeks to process, and the waiting is hard.

"This wait sucks because I really would like to know, and at this point I will be really disappointed if I am not able to be the donor," Balthazor said.

"I'm nervous," Lambky said. "I'm worried about missing school and flight time, but it's selfish not to do it because of that."

As students in K-State Salina's professional pilot program, both are fully aware that if they are matches, the donation process will put them behind in flying hours and possibly put them behind on their path to graduation. But that isn't stopping them from continuing with the donation process and considering which donation method to use.

The first method is a traditional bone marrow donation where marrow cells are taken from the backside of the pelvic bone with a syringe. Despite receiving anesthesia to make the extraction painless, patients often experience pain, bruising and stiffness for up to two weeks. It can take almost a week before the donor is able to resume normal activities such as work and school, but this outpatient procedure only takes one to two hours.

The second method is peripheral blood stem cell donation, which collects cells via the bloodstream. Donors receive shots during the four days leading up to the collection to increase the number of stem cells in the bloodstream. The donor's blood is drawn from one arm, passed through a machine to separate the stem cells, and then returned into the other arm. The process can take up to six hours on two consecutive days. Donors often experience headaches, fatigue and achiness during the time they are receiving the shots, but most times the side effects disappear within two days after donating.

The two students also would have to decide whether to travel to St. Louis or Denver to have the procedures done, as they are the two closest hospitals equipped to handle these types of donations.

But distance and discomfort aren't discouraging the students from continuing.

"I am just happy that I am able to do something like this for someone," Balthazor said.

"It's hard to say 'no' to saving somebody's life, especially when it's so easy," Lambky said.

The identity of the third donor who came up as a match remains unknown.

"We will probably never know who it is unless they tell us," said Trista Gorrell, senior in technology management, Centerville, a Students in Free Enterprise member and coordinator of the Give a Spit drive. "We had opportunities to donate set up all over town, at other universities, at the mall. It's awesome to know that SIFE was already able to make a difference – and we're just getting started, because once you're on the donor list, you're on it forever."

More information about the Give A Spit campaign is available at http://www.dosomething.org/spit. More information about DKMS and bone marrow donation is available at http://www.dkmsamericas.org/. Both websites provide information on how to become a donor.