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Pickering Inspired Life-Saving Bone Marrow Drive
Kelly Pickering poses alongside former men's basketball player Mario Stula at DePaul's bone-marrow donor drive.

Kelly Pickering poses alongside former men's basketball player Mario Stula at DePaul's bone-marrow donor drive.

April 27, 2012

CHICAGO – Every so often a story comes along that leaves you amazed at the power of the human spirit.

Such a story began last summer when DePaul cross country standout Kelly Pickering read these words on the blog of a teenager in the United Kingdom who is sharing with the world her battle against terminal cancer.

“I’m 15 and I have terminal cancer,” begins the blog entitled Alice’s Bucket List. “I’ve created a bucket list because there are so many things I still want to do in my life… some are possible, some will remain a dream. My blog is to document this precious time with my family and friends, doing the things I want to do. You only have one life… live it!”

Alice Pyne is now 16 and has checked off her list swimming with sharks, visiting Kenya and meeting the British vocal pop group Take That as the 3,755,603 visitors to her site have found out.

But her No. 1 item remains unchecked: “To get everyone to join a bone marrow register.”

The moment Pickering read those words---it was the genesis of an inspiration.

Arriving back at DePaul in August, she contacted community outreach administrator Dave Corzine about organizing a bone marrow registration drive.

“I was so moved by her blog,” Pickering said. “What an inspiration. She is 16 now and has inspired hundreds of thousands of people all over the world to sign up.

“A large percentage of leukemia patients could be saved with a bone-marrow transplant, but there aren’t enough donors in the registry.”

Pickering first reached out to her women’s cross country teammates and received unanimous support. Pickering and those teammates along with student-athletes from women’s track gave talks in front of their classes to further the cause.

The idea caught fire in the DePaul athletic community and pretty soon, student-athletes from every team became involved with the project.


 

 

Lisa Ryckbosch of the women’s basketball staff lent her organizational skills having previously run a bone-marrow drive along with coach Doug Bruno on behalf of her best friend, a leukemia patient who died 15 years ago.

Men’s basketball executive assistant Linda Jepsen, who has a personal connection with leukemia, jumped in with both feet. Student center business manager Joe Bertolli secured a prominent location for the event.

“I had never done anything like this before,” Pickering said. “I didn’t know anybody with leukemia. I just thought that if this was my mom or sibling, I’d hope that someone would help us out.”

The donor drive from Oct. 10-13 was an unbelievable success. Pickering and the DePaul athletic community recently discovered that because of their efforts, two matches have been found.

Conceivably, Pickering & Co. may have just saved two lives.

“This was the best event I have worked on this year,” said Sam Tan of the Be The Match Registry in Chicago. "At first, I was expecting less than 100 people to register, and we had more than three times (332) that amount.”

Tan said bone-marrow registries have a shortage of minority donors and that DePaul’s diversity had a tremendous impact with 120 minority registrants.

“What was also so impressive was the buy-in," Tan said. "Most of the time, only a few people take on the cause. When I showed up at DePaul, I didn’t have to do much work. The student-athletes came out in full force, and they educated themselves so they could emphasize to their peers what this was all about.

“Our statistics say if you sign up 10,000 people that 18 go on to donate bone marrow. Out of 332, there were two matches at DePaul, and that’s pretty rare.”

So is a Division I student-athlete like Kelly Pickering.

“Nothing would have been done if not for her,” Corzine said. “None of this would have happened without our student-athletes in the student-center lobby encouraging people to register.

“I would say that 90 percent of the people signed up because of the student-athletes.”

Pickering had a big smile on her face after receiving the good news.

“Being able to save the lives of two people---I was ecstatic,” Pickering said. “The chances of getting a match are one in 540, and to have two out of 332 is really awesome.

“The real heroes in all this are the people who were a match and have stepped up to be a donor. I have a classmate who registered four years ago and recently found out he could be a match. This person came to me and said: ‘What should I do?’ I convinced him to call back and go in for the physical.

“This made me realize how one person can make a difference. People are willing to help---just tell them how they can do it.

“After our drive was done, I sent an e-mail to Alice's blog. It said: ‘I’m from the USA and we registered 332 people.’”

Thanks to people like Kelly Pickering, that top item on Alice’s Bucket List may one day be checked off.