Be The Match: Why F&M’s Student-Run Stem Cell & Bone Marrow Donor Search Needs YOU

By Sarah Nicell || Campus Life Editor

Photo Courtesy of Nick DiBello, from Be The Match.

In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 infection rates began to grow, Franklin & Marshall College sophomore Nick DiBello returned home. Upon being isolated in the same place for such a strange period of time, most Americans took on various quarantine hobbies: knitting, painting, gardening, online shopping, creating Tik Tok content, and binge-watching whatever shows and movies Netflix added to its platform within a week of their release dates in order to cope with pandemic monotony.

After receiving a flyer about someone in town in need of a bone marrow transplant, Nick settled on a slightly different quarantine pastime: helping a nonprofit search for stem cell and bone marrow donors.

According to its website, Be The Match “is a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to helping every patient get the life-saving transplant they need.” Through its investments in medical research and collection of bone marrow, cord blood, and financial donations from across the nation, the non-profit made 105,000 blood stem cell transplants possible in 2020.

When Nick was finally able to return to campus as a junior in the fall of 2020, he returned not only with a new passion but also with an idea. 

“I came back to F&M and figured I should get a drive going for it,” he explained enthusiastically, “F&M initially said no because [we’re not allowed to have] blood drives, but this was a swab drive.”

Swab drives, Nick informed me, are a quick, easy, and all-inclusive process. All you have to do to make a difference is show up, receive the complimentary Nick DiBello Be The Match elevator pitch, and swab your own cheeks with provided cotton swabs. You will then be registered into the Be The Match donor registry, and if the stars align, you might just get to save a life.

While organizing that first drive proved itself to be a difficult task, Nick was able to connect with others on campus—such as football coach John Troxell, an experienced participant in Be The Match—with similar passions. That drive, however, was not the end for swab drives at F&M. After interning with Be The Match during the summer before junior year, Nick was able to initiate a branch on campus, now an active and incredibly important part of the college’s club system. 

Photo Courtesy of Nick DiBello, from Be The Match.

With 85 members signed up for the club, F&M’s Be The Match has already made positive change in the world. This year, they have hosted several events, including a drive with F&M swimming (9/25), Alpha Phi (10/13), and Bonchek College House (10/23). Upcoming drives include a collaboration with Brooks (10/30) and Roschel (11/6). Last year, F&M’s Be The Match ranked third in the nation for college donor recruitment, with 234 sign-ups. They have collaborated with various clubs, teams, and organizations across campus to spread the word about bone marrow and cord blood donation, and so far, it has been effective. There are more events to come, and you can find out about their locations and dates by regularly checking your email or Be The Match’s Instagram page, bethematch_fandm (go give them a follow!).

Now Nick is a senior, and he has made Be The Match his F&M legacy. As the founder of this particular branch, he is hopeful for the future of the club. And he has a message for you.

“Be the Match is for everyone, even people who don’t swab!” he urged. “All we want is people who care and see the larger picture.”

Regardless of whether you can swab or not, your presence is welcome and greatly appreciated. Being type one diabetic, I personally cannot be a donor due to the organization’s health restrictions. Even so, Be The Match’s drive and passion for helping those in need persuades me to attend events, learn, and show support in any way I can.

For some, a swab drive feels intimidating due to its association with blood and the medical field. However, F&M’s Be The Match wants to remind you that swabbing is not an invasive process; it is entirely voluntary, and you get to do it yourself! According to Be The Match’s website, “Be The Match only encourages those who are comfortable with the possibility of donating to join the registry.” If you don’t feel comfortable being registered as a potential donor, visible non-swabber support is encouraged. Everyone, including those uninterested in donating, has a place in the club, which can only succeed if people who truly care about the cause get involved and spread the word.

“I want to make it as approachable as possible,” Nick explained after being asked what he wants for the future of the club. “I don’t want to make it a scary thing.”

Be The Match at F&M has come a long way, and with its founder graduating this spring, the club will rely on new members for its continuation. The club recommends that everyone interested in making a positive impact join and work to make Be The Match their own.

“I’m proud of the club and our progress,” Nick concluded, “and I want it to continue even after I’m gone.”

Link to Be The Match: https://bethematch.org/about-us/our-story/.

Sarah Nicell is a sophomore and the Campus Life Editor for The College Reporter. Their email is snicell@fandm.edu.

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