Stoops, OU players volunteer for blood marrow screenings

NORMAN, Okla. -- Along with trying to win a third straight Big 12 championship and righting recent BCS struggles, the Oklahoma Sooners left their media day Wednesday with another goal in mind: Saving lives.

Dozens of players followed coach Bob Stoops' lead in going through screening to become a bone marrow donor, hoping to help a 10-year-old Sooners fan and others suffering from cancer and blood disorders.

"When you think about it, one day you could actually save somebody's life. To me, that's something really important that you should do," said linebacker Austin Box, who sat down at a table to complete his screening shortly after Stoops got done.

Each potential donor rubbed four cotton swabs in their mouth -- one in each corner -- to provide a DNA sample that will go in a national registry. Patients who are in need of a bone marrow transplant will also have their DNA entered into the database to see if it fits with a donor.

Tallie Anderson, a 10-year-old transplant hopeful from Shawnee, attended the screening in a pink Oklahoma T-shirt and met with Stoops and players who volunteered. She was diagnosed last March with severe aplastic anemia, a blood disorder.

"We thought it would be like anything else: a one-year thing. You go in, you go out. The doctors didn't mention a bone marrow transplant or anything -- `We'll do treatment. We're good to go," said Roger Anderson, Tallie's dad.

"But now we're starting to talk bone marrow transplant because some of the therapy is not working."

Tallie's chances at finding a donor aren't as good as others might be. She's a descendant of the Choctaw Tribe, and American Indians have the lowest number of registered donors with the National Marrow Donor Program. Nearly 80,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives are in the NMDP's database, compared to more than 5 million white people.

"If you're a Caucasian -- a plain, vanilla Caucasian -- your chance of getting a match is about 80 percent, but it drops off dramatically if you're a minority," said Laura Rooms, a pediatric oncologist with the Children's Hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.

To make up for the underrepresented parts of the population, the federal program pays the $52 screening fee for minorities and certain targeted donors including college athletes, police and firefighters, said Stacy McLeod, the NMDP coordinator with the Oklahoma Blood institute.

The Sooners football players were ideal candidates.

"These guys are young, their cells are viable, they will be able to donate for many years, which is extremely important, and they're male. Those are big criteria," McLeod said. "Those are the ones we really want because those are the ones that are going to graft, or actually work, in a patient."

Stoops said he came up with the idea for the screening by reading an article about a similar program at Wagner College, a Football Championship Subdivision school in Staten Island, N.Y.

"I thought, heck, why couldn't we? We've got a lot of strong, healthy young guys if they're willing to do it," said Stoops, who frequently visits cancer patients at the children's hospital. "We just informed them that if they wanted to, there'd be this opportunity."

There were 84 players, coaches, reporters and athletic department staff members who went through the screening at Oklahoma. Wagner reported getting 201 volunteers at its marrow drive in April, which was open to the public.

"Hopefully a lot of Division I schools will see what coach Stoops is doing and then hopefully do it," said punter Mike Knall, who also got screened. "If we get all these numbers of people to get their DNA out there, you're bound to find someone who will meet your match and save thousands or millions of lives."

When the database generates a match, the NMDP contacts the registered donor to see if that person is still willing to participate. The donor then would go through a medical screening to make sure the procedure will be safe and be given the choice to give either bone marrow or peripheral blood.

Rooms said a syringe is used to harvest the marrow from a donor's hips or back in an approximately hourlong procedure under general anesthesia, while the blood donation takes longer but uses needles in each arm. She said the donor usually has some "mild discomfort."

"To save somebody's life, it's a fairly minimal sacrifice," Rooms said.

The screening is even easier. Stoops had to fill out a form with some personal information -- and sign an autograph on a second form -- before the DNA collection, which takes about 10 seconds per swab.

"I think as much as anything just the general public doesn't realize maybe how easy it is to be on the registry. I just did it in a total of 5 minutes," Stoops said. "I understand there will be a process if I were to be a donor for it but I think to help someone to improve their life or to give them a chance to live, it's worth it, maybe the little bit of discomfort it might be, to give them that chance."

And maybe, just maybe, little Tallie will find a DNA match in quarterback Sam Bradford, who is of Cherokee descent, or in someone he inspires to donate.

"There's a lot of kids who need bone marrow transplants, and it's just an opportunity for us to add to the possibilities that they'll find a match and that they'll be able to get the transplant that they need," Bradford said.

"A lot of these kids need it to help them live, so it's just something that we can do to help people out."

For more information, visit www.marrow.org.