After a long process, he was one of the lucky ones to find a donor, and now Dr. Tom Braithwaite is on the mend after a bone marrow transplant.
It is a crucial time for Braithwaite as he recovers at the Mayo Clinic, but millions of others are still waiting for a life-saving match. Some students at Augustana College are taking a break from learning in the classroom to teach us how quickly you can become a possible bone marrow donor.
In the Morrison Commons, 21-year-old Thad Titze cheers on another student who is getting the swab test.
No need for a cheering section, because getting on the National Marrow Registry is the easy part. You might say the most difficult part about the process is the paperwork, but even that is pretty simple.
"[You] do a couple of cheek swabs and your on the registry," Augustana Senior Kelsey Bortnem said.
To join the registry, all you need to do is brush a few Q-tips on the insides of your cheeks to collect DNA samples. The samples are sent in to the National Marrow Program. On Wednesday, Bortnem and Titze are inspiring other students to get swabbed. The Augustana Student Association and Student Nursing Association's Be the Match donor drive came at the request of Augie President Rob Oliver. Oliver himself got on the registry in honor Braithwaite, who is a close friend.
"How can you say no? And Rob is right, the age range they're looking for. We have an entire campus community that perfectly fits that age range," Titze said.
Augustana's Be the Match Donor Drive is in the Morrison Commons on campus from Wednesday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You do not have to be a student to register at the Augie Donor Drive. Donors can be 18 to 44 years old, so almost anyone can possibly save a life.
As Titze mentioned, college students are a target age range.
Seeing her friends volunteer to be on the registry is special to Bortnem. She has been a part of donor drives and this beginning process a few times, but she has seen the end result first hand.
"I didn't realize that just being tired would have an end result of needing a bone marrow transplant," Bortnem said.
Her fatigue was a symptom of Aplastic Anemia, a condition where bone marrow fails to produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. She had her transplant at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 2011. Along with several rounds of chemotherapy and a full-body radiation treatment, she also had to wear a mask to protect her immune system for a month and a half.
"[It was] very claustrophobic," Bortnem said.
The now 22-year-old, who is active on the golf team, does not know a lot about her donor, except that he is a man in his early 30s who lives in the United States.
"I think I would just run up to him and hug him and thank him so much for what he's given me," Bortnem said.
Watching a donor drive, it is clear the swab test this is the easy part. And seeing Bortnem in good health after her bone marrow transplant is the best part.
"He's really given me a second chance at life," Bortnem said.