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Be The Match honors DePaul nursing students with national award

Students help recruit 6,000 potential donors to registry in a single year

Stem-cell transplants can cure many life-threatening blood cancers and lymphoma, but thousands of patients are still waiting to match with a donor. Students in DePaul’s School of Nursing are working to shorten that wait and save lives. Earlier this month, the National Marrow Donor Program honored DePaul’s Master’s Entry into Nursing Practice students with an award for helping to add more than 6,000 potential donors to the Be The Match registry this ye​ar.

“DePaul nursing students are passionate about this work and incredibly skilled at recruiting donors,” says Terri Haid, the Illinois account manager at Be the Match. “Every drive, everything we do with the community is touched by these students.” There are nearly 70 DePaul students volunteering with Be The Match, and they have staffed and organized some 100 drives and events in the past year.

Students Ami Nakrani and Rebecca Jones, along with alumnus Mark Comia, traveled to Minneapolis to accept the award. They addressed an audience of physicians, nurses and other medical staff affiliated with stem cell transplant centers, as well as other Be The Match supporters.

“You clearly wish to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Jones told those gathered at the event. “It’s not always easy to muster a positive attitude in the face of rejection … so I just want to say thank you for all of your collective hard work.”

Be The Match registration drive
DePaul students in the School of Nursing helped to staff more than 100 registration drives for Be The Match in the past year. (Image courtesy of Be The Match)
Community service is central to nursing at DePaul

DePaul’s MENP students are accustomed to a taking on a challenge. The rigorous graduate program accepts students with non-nursing degrees. With a new cohort arriving each quarter, MENP students take on a heavy courseload as well as clinical rotations and graduate in two years.

“These students originally studied something else but were called to become nurses, and they answered this call during a pandemic,” says Mary-Beth Desmond, associate director of the MENP program. She says DePaul has created abundant space for the Vincentian mission of service in the curriculum. Community-based service learning is a requirement, and the Steans Center helps pair students with a local organization where they commit to volunteer for two years.

“This can be deeply spiritual because students find such meaning and purpose in this act of service and going outside of themselves to help another in need. The students who volunteer with Be The Match are doing exactly that,” Desmond says. In class, students reflect on the meaning of the volunteer experience and learn practical skills, such as how to conduct a community assessment.

DePaul Nursing students say the opportunity to serve is at the heart of their preparation to become nurses. 

“There are a lot of people with compassionate and caring personalities who choose to study nursing,” Comia says. When planning recruitment drives, Comia says DePaul students have made an extra effort to incorporate patients and their families. “When you hear a story firsthand, it’s a powerful experience.”

For Nakrani, volunteering feels personal. As a child, she received a lifesaving stem-cell transplant from her brother. She also points to an equity aspect to the work as well. Tissue types used in matching are inherited, so patients are most likely to match someone of the same ethnic ancestry or background. Holding drives in diverse communities increases the ethnic diversity of the registry. In turn, this increases the variety of tissue types available and helps more patients find the match they need.

Nakrani finds volunteering at the drives to be both energizing and challenging. 

“We’re going up to anyone and everyone while canvassing. It’s all about going out of your comfort zone," she says.

In talking with a potential donor, Nakrani has learned to dispel myths about the donation process, which can be similar to a long blood donation. Students at the drives wear shirts that say “Let’s swab spit” to invite potential donors to complete a cheek swab. 

“I’ve been able to make friends while having fun connecting with and educating the community all at the same time,” she says.

Be the Match Award
Mark Comia, Rebecca Jones, Ami Nakrani and Terri Haid celebrate at the national Be The Match award ceremony. (Image courtesy of Be The Match)

Comia is studying for his licensing exam and, upon passing, will start with Northwestern Medicine in Chicago on a cardiac transplant unit. Nakrani plans to stay in the Chicago area as a pediatric nurse. Her latest clinical immersion was at Advocate Lutheran General, and she hopes to land a similar role upon graduating this fall.

Haid says the legacy these students are leaving with DePaul and Be The Match will continue well beyond graduation. 

“The DePaul nursing students inspire me on a daily basis—watching their passion, their growth has been an honor,” she says. 

To join the registry or learn more, text DePaul to 61474, or visit https://my.bethematch.org/DePaul.