How to save a life
March 8, 2011
Lindsey Van isn’t scared of very much.
Case in point: She willingly chooses to soar through the air, hundreds of feet high, as part of an every-day routine.
The 26-year-old Park City resident has made a name for herself in women’s ski jumping; a sport in which she won the inaugural gold medal at the 2009 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.
Having been a part of numerous battles for women’s equality in the Olympic Winter Games, Van has found a new fight one which seemingly has no end.
And she accepts that challenge.
Her former roommate, Seun Adebiyi, an African-American who wanted to be one of the first Nigerians to participate in the Winter Olympics, was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of leukemia and lymphoma.
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Adebiyi needed a bone-marrow transplant. He tried and searched and couldn’t find a match and then began asking his friends to sign up on a donation registry.
Van did. She wasn’t a match, but Adebiyi eventually received a blood transplant a little over a year ago and is regaining his health.
Over a year after signing up at http://www.bethematch.com , a website which coordinates potential bone marrow donators, Van received a phone call.
"They asked me if I wanted to follow through," she said. "I said ‘of course.’"
Be the Match sends every potential donor on the online registry a cheek swab. After a quick swab of the cheek, potential donors send the swab back and their information is kept on file. According to Van, the website doesn’t ask for any additional information unless volunteers turn out to be a match. Anyone who is registered can decide to withdraw at any time.
For Van, that is no longer an option.
"If you’re somebody’s perfect match for this, which is hard to find, to let them have that hope that they found someone and not have that person follow through would be hard to see," she said. "I look at it from my perspective, if I were sick and I needed a bone-marrow transplant, I’d expect to get one. If you expect to get one, you have to give."
The only information provided to Van is that she was a "perfect match" for a 49-year-old male who is currently in a fight for his life with leukemia.
Van said the organization doesn’t allow recipients to meet donators because the hope is that the recipients can and should focus strictly on potential recovery.
"They say he may need a further donation later on down the road," she said. "Guess I’ll find out more about that later."
She will be flying to San Francisco, Calif., on March 13 to begin her whirlwind week of being poked with needles withdrawing blood and injecting her with peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC).
Five days prior to the actual donation, Van will receive a series of injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. The blood is then removed through a needle in one arm and spun through a machine that separates those blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is then injected in the opposite arm.
Generally, those blood-forming cells return to normal functioning levels in donors in about four to six weeks.
Van said her blood will be drawn and spun four times each day, which is about a six-hour process, resulting in two days of collection.
The world-class high flyer isn’t afraid of heights, but said she would be lying if she wasn’t anxious about the in-depth procedure.
She said the injection of the drug will cause, "gnarly muscle pain, bone pain and nausea," but added: "I’ve had a lot of pain as an athlete. I can’t imagine it’s going to be too terrible."
The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Van.
Coming off the sport’s World Championships two weeks ago in Oslo, Norway, Van’s jumping season is pretty much over for the season. She is currently working at Alpine Sports Medicine in Park City as a physical therapy aide.
She said had the organization called prior to the World Championships, she still would have skipped the competition to help save a life.
"There are bigger things in life than sports," Van said. "There aren’t many chances to do something like this. I would have done this over anything else."
Van added that the enormity of the situation is beginning to sink in.
"I’m used to pressure, but it’s definitely a different kind of pressure," she said. "It’s not just me, it’s somebody else. It’s their only chance at survival.
"It’s just something I feel like I should do."
For more information on how to become a bone-morrow donor, visit http://www.bethematch.com .