When Middlebury College senior Erica Goodman and her varsity basketball teammates discovered that Vermont did not have a National Marrow Donor Program registry, they did what any motivated and goal-oriented team would do: they created one.
"The closest bone marrow donor registry to Vermont is in Hartford, Connecticut," explains Erica. "That seemed ridiculous to us, when the registry is in such need for potential donors. So I contacted the national office and asked them if we could set up a temporary donor registry here on the Middlebury campus." Each year, according to the National Marrow Donor Program web site, more than 30,000 people in the United States -34 percent of whom are children - are diagnosed with diseases such as leukemia and lymphomas, for which a blood cell or marrow transplant can be a cure. The success rates of the transplants vary, but patient survival rates are as high as 60 percent.
To better understand Erica and her teammates' dedication to getting this idea off the ground, look no further than the inspiring role model that guides and motivates them each winter season - varsity basketball coach Noreen Pecsok. Last spring, Coach Pecsok shared with the team her personal story concerning the bone marrow registry. "My brother-in-law needed a donor, and neither of his siblings was a match," says Pecsok. "I come from a big family, so we all decided to get on the registry to see if any of us could be a match. That's when I found out that the nearest location was Hartford."
A representative from the Hartford affiliate of the Minnesota-based National Marrow Donor Program worked with Erica, her teammates and Coach Pecsok to set up an auxiliary donor registry for two days this fall, October 24 and 25. Erica then began the hard work of spreading the word and drumming up interest. "I started with the athletic teams," she says. "Coach and I went around to all the fields one afternoon with information and a clipboard and just started talking to people. We got a great response, with more than 200 athletes signing up-and most of those actually showed up on the two days. It was amazing." Erica also posted informational flyers around campus to encourage walk-ins.
In all, more than 150 people, including Coach Pecsok, came to the two locations - Pearson Lounge one day and McCullough Social Space the next - and signed their names to the National Marrow Donor Program registry. The process of becoming a potential donor is fairly simple, but the commitment is considerable. After completing a brief health questionnaire and providing a small blood sample to determine tissue type, potential donors sign a consent form that will catalog their tissue types for possible matches. Their information remains on the registry until their 61st birthdays. For many of the college-age donors, that's a 40-year commitment. As Pecsok notes, though, such an intense commitment is not surprising. "I'm often blown away by the level of generosity I see in students like Erica," she says. "Their time is so filled with study and sports and other activities, and yet they still find time to take on something like this donor drive."
Pecsok recalls how the topic of the donor registry first arose last spring. "We often discuss all kinds of non-basketball things while we stretch before practice, and one day we started talking about bone marrow donors - how one person can give something of themselves to save another's life. What an incredible gift to give - to both someone else and yourself." It was Erica, in particular, who hung onto that conversation and kept after her coach for more information. "She's amazing," adds Pecsok. "She took this nugget of an idea and ran with it. Without her organized, consistent and focused efforts, I can't see how this would have ever happened."
Erica is no stranger to community service. She's been active with the college's Alliance for Civic Engagement (ACE) since she first came to Middlebury, and was most recently named Middlebury Area Land Trust volunteer of the year for her work in helping to maintain the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), a 16-mile trail that links the college, town and surrounding countryside. When it comes to organizing events like the bone marrow donor drive, she knows how to make things happen. While a potential donor is typically charged a processing fee of $25, Erica wanted to waive this fee so as not to discourage people. To cover costs, she raised money from each of the commons - Middlebury's residential system of five small campus communities - and Director of Athletics Russ Reilly contributed as well. Throughout the three-hour sessions each day, Erica and her teammates signed people in, asked the screening questions and directed people to the blood sample stations and snacks. "It was very busy and stressful at times, but such a positive experience," says Erica. "The representative from the donor program in Hartford was blown away by the number of people here who signed on. When she did this same kind of drive in her home area at University of Connecticut, only a handful of people showed up."
When Erica's academic adviser, Assistant Professor Holly Allen of the American literature and civilization department, heard about the drive, she said, "I'm not surprised that Erica was involved in the National Marrow Donor Program. She's such a distinctive, bright, responsible and mature individual. Her senior honors thesis promises to be quite wonderful, as well. She is writing about the civic implications of television coverage of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, and I am so impressed with the complexity of her analysis. I've enjoyed being Erica's academic adviser because she is so personable and intellectually engaging. Her academic leadership is truly outstanding, as are her extracurricular commitments."
Whether on or off the basketball court, Erica's perseverance in making a positive contribution to her community is remarkable. After the incredible success of the donor drive, Pecsok recalls, "I told Erica, 'How cool is this? Some people don't do anything like this in a lifetime.' I really wanted her to recognize and appreciate that. It's one of my biggest goals as a coach to help these young women feel both competent and confident in achieving what they set their sights on when they go out into the world. Erica's been a great example of that."
As Erica looks ahead to life after Middlebury, she's considering working for nonprofits before she heads back to school for additional degrees. But for now, she and her teammates have some basketball to play.
-- Blair Kloman --