Alec Ramirez, a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics student at UIW, was walking to class when he was called over by a member of UIW’s Pre-Pharmacy Association (PPA). The PPA was hosting their annual bone marrow drive for the GenCure Marrow Donor Program, “Be the Match.”
“I did not know anything about this program until the student from PPA called me over to register,” Ramirez said. “They explained the process to me, took a couple of cheek swabs, and let me know that was the end of it unless I turned out to be a match for someone.”
Little did Ramirez know, though he was registering as a student, he would emerge a hero. In February 2015, five months after registering at the bone marrow drive, he received a call saying that he might be a match to a 10-year-old boy battling leukemia.
“As soon as I got the call that I had the potential to save a life, I did not care what it was going to take, I was ready to do what I needed to do,” he said.
Ramirez completed the process, and endured six sessions of blood work, to confirm he was truly a match to the young boy. Once it was an official match, the bone marrow transplant was scheduled for June in Fort Worth.
Ramirez shared that just before the transplant he asked his doctor what the chances were that the operation would work for the young boy with leukemia. “My doctor told me he had a 40 percent chance of survival,” Ramirez said. “I told her I didn’t think that was a very high chance, and she responded ‘that is a whole lot more of a chance than zero’ – I was taken aback, she was right – it was a very emotional moment for me.”
The transplant went well and the young boy was able to walk again by August. “I was called again a few months later because he needed T-cells and they wanted to keep it consistent with the marrow I had donated,” Ramirez said. “The doctors jokingly told us if either of us committed a crime and the police did forensics that we were both going to get calls since we share DNA now.”
The young boy and his parents sent Ramirez Christmas cards to show their appreciation. “One year from the procedure, as long as they are willing, we are supposed to be able to meet,” Ramirez said. “I really hope it works out for us to meet.”
Since the UIW Pre-Pharmacy Association began hosting the annual bone marrow drive in 2013, GenCure has registered more than 800 donors.
“Every year we aim to build and grow a community on campus that will rally around donors like Alec,” said Adriana Estrada ’09 BA, marrow recruitment consultant for GenCure. “We want donors to have a strong support system around them that understands and encourages them to help save a life.”
“Over the last three years, and the bone marrow drives PPA has hosted, our students have taken ownership of this event and they take it to heart,” said Candace Graham, pre-pharmacy counselor and advisor for the UIW Feik School of Pharmacy. “It has become personal to them, especially since PPA’s annual drive is in memory of former San Antonio Police Department Officer Tony Barasa, who lost his fight to leukemia.”
Graham said PPA is committed every year to fulfilling UIW’s Mission and to contributing to the community on many levels, both on and off campus.
“PPA brings in representatives from ‘Be the Match’ to educate first-time freshmen, who are new to PPA, about the need, process and dynamics of bone marrow,” Graham explained. “Our PPA members assemble the registration packets for the event, promote and work the two-day bone marrow drive every year. They also actively recruit on and off campus for donors.”
Estrada said every donor added to the bone marrow registry gives hope to patients and their families. “Hosting bone marrow drives on college campuses, like UIW, brings awareness that there is a cure and it could be anyone simply passing by,” she said. “This is so important because college students are the perfect demographic – they are young, healthy and willing to learn and help if they can.”
As a UIW alumna, Estrada also attributes the work she does today to Incarnate Word. “UIW took who I was and made me into the person I always wanted to be,” she shared. “Today, I am an advocate and a voice for patients without a bone marrow match and my mission is to change the way people view being a donor.”
“UIW’s Mission encourages education through these drives by helping spread the word,” Estrada said. “When the missions of UIW and ‘Be the Match’ collide, we are changing and saving lives – we are inspiring a community to be the change they want to see in the world, and I could not be more proud of UIW and Alec.”
For more info, visit: gencure.org
By Crystale Galindo