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Chicago Mon Apr 14 2014

Inaugural Be The Match Starts Chicago In Right Direction

Finish.jpg It was a blustery spring morning on Saturday as more and more people approached the tent area at Montrose Harbor. The sun was beginning to peak out, and the warmest outdoor temperature since last October put a smile on everyone's face.

In all reality, the weather could have been 40 degrees with rain, but it wouldn't have mattered. A 5K run and 1K walk to benefit finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases was about to start, and the warmth of community and togetherness provided enough energy to power the United Center.

In its inaugural event in Chicago, Be The Match, an organization that for over the past 25 years, has helped countless numbers of individuals find matches from donors, including, according to it's website, 61,000 marrow and cord blood transplants and nearly 6,300 transplants a year. And what better way to help spread awareness of such a program than a healthy stroll on the city's north side.

Being the world's largest and most diverse donor registry, Be The Match currently has over 11 million potential marrow donors and 193,000 core blood units of which to speak. And seeing as how the likelihood of finding an available donor on Be The Match's registry ranges from 76 to 97 percent (depending on ethnicity and race), its mission is not only to alert those looking for a match, but also to educate those who are willing to donate.

"It's an incredible mission, and everyday we help patients with leukemia with marrow and stem cell transplants," said Betsy Ward, a community engagement manager for the last three years with Be The Match. "It's being inspired in helping lives that keeps bringing people back."

Family.jpg There were people of all ages along the harbor, mostly families running together for whomever they represent in the cause. In fact, Be The Match encourages those between the ages of 18 to 44 years old to get involved, considering 90 percent of those individuals are requested by transplant doctors. And with growing numbers, such as averaging nearly 77,000 new registrants per month (44 percent of those being racially and ethnically diverse), Be The Match is growing in ways that only will help those who currently are diagnosed as well as those who don't yet know of their ailment.

It seems that once connected with Be The Match, it's hard to stay away -- whether it's a donation of marrow or blood cells (a person may only donate twice in their life, however, he or she can be called on again as a match from a searching patient), or running/walking in the event. Sarah Hart, a development coordinator with Be The Match out of Philadelphia for the last four years, traveled westward to help educate those looking to become members here in Chicago.

"It's an incredible experience in saving lives everyday," Hart said. "It's such a great resource for helping people."

Through word of mouth -- her college friend at Macon College -- Hart signed up and hasn't looked back since. The same applies for Estefani Aguirre, a local donor who has been involved for the last five years.

"I was at a health fair years ago," Aguirre said. "I donated blood stem cells through PVSC donation -- I just did it right there on the spot."

Aguirre's sample then went into the database and was then processed at a life source center for testing. One to two months later, Aguirre was informed that a match was found. She wasn't able to learn of whom it was that matched up with her cells, but she potentially saved a life and now she's in for the long haul.

Registration.jpg Sometimes it isn't merely stumbling upon an event like this via word of mouth or social media, but rather something more close to home. Lauren Johnson, a community engagement representative with Be The Match has only been with the organization for one year, but has the drive to continue on her new path for a long time ahead.

"My grandfather was diagnosed with melanoma and only survived four months after," Johnson said. "The joy I get from this is the education of getting people over their fear of saving other people's lives as well as their own."

Johnson's background is in education, so her usage of social media and other recruitment tools helped secure 686 registrants prior to the day's event, but also sparked a mass walk-up of registrants prior to the run itself. You could see the sense of pride, not just in Johnson's face as race time approached, but also on everyone else's connected to the program.

The goal of $75,000 for the Chicago run was reached, and, even more importantly, the goal of getting the word out was more than successful. And even though the 5K/1K had a start and finish, it's the mission of Be The Match that will continue to run, especially if kept under the guidance of those who currently see it through.

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