By Kimberly Swartz
Student Julia Caiazzo never thought her participation in a Sacred Heart University club would lead to her potentially saving someone’s life.
Caiazzo, a 21-year-old junior from Garden City, N.Y., heard about the nonprofit organization Love Your Melon (LYM) from her cousin. She liked that it involved service and was pleased to learn at the beginning of her sophomore year at SHU that the University had an LYM chapter. The nonprofit organization and apparel brand, which aims to give a hat to every child battling cancer in America, has chapters at universities across the country to help aid in its mission. It also supports other nonprofits battling pediatric cancer.
Caiazzo became more passionate about LYM during her sophomore year. She was elected chapter president and, in the spring of 2017, she led the group’s marrow swab drive. It took place in partnership with Be the Match, a nonprofit organization that maintains a marrow registry. Like everyone else at the event, Caiazzo had her cheek swabbed, and her swab went into the registry.
Last fall, Caiazzo was surprised to receive an email delivering some incredible news: she was a potential match for someone suffering from a serious disease. Her marrow could save a life.
“I was told that the potential match was just theoretical, and there was a high probability that a doctor would select another match,” said Caiazzo, who is studying psychology. “Only eight percent of potential matches are chosen.”
Caiazzo filled out paperwork and went for blood tests. On Nov. 28, she received word that she was the best match for the patient. Driven by her desire to help that person, no matter the age or sex, Caiazzo agreed to donate.
Because of confidentiality regulations, Be the Match only supplied Caiazzo with basic information about the recipient: a female in her 50s, an age similar to Caiazzo’s mother. “I imagined what it would be like if my mom was suffering and needed a donation,” Caiazzo said. This solidified her desire to donate.
Caiazzo gave a peripheral blood stem-cell donation, which involves a nonsurgical procedure to collect blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. According to Be the Match website, the same blood-forming cells found in bone marrow also are found in the circulating (peripheral) blood.
“Everyone thinks the donation process is going to hurt, but there’s a big misconception. Ninety percent of donations are nonsurgical,” said Caiazzo, who gave the donation in February.
Prior to donation day, Caiazzo received daily injections of filgrastim—a medication that increases the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream—for five days. On donation day, Caiazzo had an intravenous needle in each arm. One IV drew out blood, which passed through a machine that separated blood-forming cells. The blood was returned to Caiazzo’s body through the needle in her other arm.
The entire procedure lasted about six hours, and Caiazzo—who previously had been afraid to give blood because she was averse to needles—said the procedure was not painful. She sat in a chair, went on her phone and watched Netflix. Afterwards, Caiazzo said, she was tired and had a headache, but it was nothing compared to what the recipient deals with daily.
The procedure was scheduled around her class schedule, so it did not interfere with school.
For people debating whether they should add themselves to the donor registry, Caiazzo encourages them to do it. “This really opened my eyes,” she said. “No one chooses to have a disease; it just happens. I took my health for granted for so long. I think differently now.”
If you are thinking of becoming a donor, join Caiazzo and the campus Love Your Melon chapter on Tuesday, April 24, at Melonfest. CLICK HERE for additional details.