Student Involvement, Swimming and Diving team hold bone marrow drive for athlete whose leukemia returned

The banner at the bone marrow event that students signed in honor of Travis Russo. Student Involvement and the Swimming and Diving team put together a bone marrow drive after they learned that Russo's leukemia returned.
Photo from Lindenwood University's Student Involvement Facebook page

MEGAN COURTNEY | A&E Editor

Student Involvement and the Lindenwood Swimming and Diving team came together to support fellow friend and team member Travis Russo in his time of need.

Russo, an exercise science and athletic training student, and also a member of the Swimming and Diving and Collegiate Leadership competition teams, recently found out that his cancer returned. 

According to the Lindenwood Digest, Russo is currently undergoing treatment and is in need of a bone marrow transplant because chemotherapy is not enough on its own.

 Lindenwood Swimming and Diving worked with Student Involvement to hold a bone marrow drive for fellow team member Travis Russo after they learned his leukemia returned.
Photo from Lindenwood Athletics

A bone marrow drive was set up on Monday outside of the Spellmann Dining Hall from 7-11 p.m to swab students’ cheeks to see if they would be a potential match to donate bone marrow to Russo.

Student Involvement Director Angie Royal said in an email that as soon as they heard Russo’s leukemia returned, they “knew they needed to do something.”

“Erin Sutton and Coach Mandy Lau of Lindenwood Swimming and Diving had the same thought and approached me about collaborating on a drive,” Royal said. “I agreed and immediately contacted Be The Match to get this started.”

Royal said “odds were stacked against us” as they only had 12 days to make the drive happen, but because she and Denise Mosley of Be The Match worked nights and weekends, they were able to pull it off.

In addition, students could also be tested to see if they are potential donors to other people who are in need of bone marrow.

The goal was to add 75 donors to the registry, but Royal said they surpassed that goal.

“I’m proud to say that we not only met that goal, we destroyed it,” Royal said. “We ended up adding 125 donors to the registry Monday night, which is an amazing feat.”

At this time, Royal said they do not know yet if any Lindenwood students were a match, but are hopeful that someone will “Be The Match.”

Russo could not be reached in-person due to having to return to California for leukemia treatment, but in an email, he said he “did not know where to begin.”

“I cried all day at the amazing work my team and friends did for me,” Russo said. “I never expected people to go so far above and beyond for me, but they did and it triggered so many emotions. I’ve been terrified since my diagnosis, but Monday was the first day I felt optimistic.”

Royal said a few things she heard on Monday were “Isn’t it really painful?” and “I’m afraid of needles.”

Bone marrow donation is done under general or regional anesthesia, according to Be The Match, a national bone marrow registry. The donor experiences no pain during the collection.

There are some side effects that vary from person-to-person, which include back or hip pain, fatigue, muscle pain, headaches or bruising at the incision site.

According to an instructional video from Be The Match, a potential donor should make sure their mouth is empty and swallow to get rid of any excess saliva before swabbing, and the four “key areas” to swab are the upper and lower sections of both cheeks.

The video also states that a donor should swab each area “vigorously” and for 10 seconds apiece.

According to Be The Match, 1 in 430 registry members will actually donate, 1 in 300 will be selected as “the best possible donor for a patient,” and 1 in 40 registry members will be called for additional testing, which is used to narrow down the list of potential donors to pick the best one for a patient.

Royal said the drive would not have been possible without the Swimming and Diving team, members of the Collegiate Leadership Competition Team and other athletes who donated time to table, promote and work the event.

“I am truly grateful for each of them,” Royal said.

Lindenwood’s bone marrow drive will continue online through June 30. To join and become a donor, visit the website and fill out questions relating to your medical history and contact information and Be The Match will send a swab kit to your door. 

For more information or to learn how to join, to get information on guidelines and how to receive a swab kit, visit the Be The Match official website by clicking here.

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