Vekich, Verdun Make a Difference in Bone Marrow Donor Program
Kirsten Verdun and Alex Vekich pose on stairway during the recent Be The Match bone marrow donor registration drive.

June 4, 2014

CHICAGO - When it comes to potentially saving a life, there was no holding back Alex Vekich and Kirsten Verdun.

The pair of DePaul student-athletes and Captains' Council officers spearheaded a campus bone marrow registration drive May 20-21 at the student center and signed up 214 people in a total of eight hours.

Enlisting the help of 20 other student-athletes, Vekich and Verdun coordinated their efforts through DePaul community service administrator Dave Corzine and Lauren Johnson, local representative for the Be The Match national marrow donor program.

Be The Match operates the Be The Match Registry, the world's largest listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units.

Every year, thousands of people of all ages are diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma, sickle cell anemia or other life-threatening diseases. Seventy percent of people do not have a donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find a match to save their life.

"My mom had cancer," said Vekich who competed in track and field. "I know what it's like to go through something like that. It happened when I was 10 years old. She is good now, alive and healthy.

"This was something I could do that would benefit somebody else. It was only four hours a day for two days. What's eight hours in comparison to somebody's lifetime?"

Vekich and Verdun---a Second Team All-American softball pitcher---got their competitive juices flowing with a personal challenge.

"When it comes to athletes, we get a little competitive out there," Vekich said with a smile. "Kirsten and I had a little contest to see who could sign up the most people. It was Team Verdun versus Team Vekich. It was close---let's call it a tie.

"My approach would be: `Do you have a minute to save a life?' Towards the end of the first day, we had signed up 85 people and there was 15 minutes left. We had set a goal of 100 registrations per day. We were relentless, and in those last 15 minutes we signed up 15 more people."



They helped clear up a stereotype of bone marrow donor registration.

"Alex and I did the research and learned all about the process for bone marrow donations," said Verdun who signed a contract with Chicago Bandits and began her National Pro Fastpitch career last week.

"When you mention bone marrow donor to most people, they think about this huge needle going into you. But once you explain to them that registering is simply signing up and having the inside of your mouth swabbed with a cotton Q-tip, they relax and get involved. About one in 500 goes on to donate.

"The chance of having that needle is pretty small. And, even if you are a match, much of the time you can be a donor through a blood transfusion. The stigma surrounding bone marrow donation is really powerful."

Vekich noticed the same thing.

"People from Be The Match Registry in Chicago were there to explain everything," Vekich said. "At first, people were hesitant to sign up. But all of us working had done it, and as they learned about the process, it became less scary.

"By coincidence, there was a girl manning a student housing booth next to us who had received a bone marrow transplant when she was younger. It was amazing to find out someone my age had gotten a transplant.

"It made me realize the importance of what I was doing and put a purpose behind the cause. What are the chances that someone in the next booth who is my age would have had a bone marrow transplant?"

Kelsey Lawson, Patricia Fargas, Rebeca Mitrea and Zaina Sufi from the women's tennis team volunteered their time while the track team was well-represented by Vekich, Lauren Sharp, Colleen Earl, Megan Escobosa, Gabrielle Howard, Jackie Kasal and Sarah Moss.

Volleyball players Callie Huebner, Tyler Graham, JaQuayla Baker and Randi Leath signed on to help along with Nikki Naclerio and Ashleigh Goddard (women's soccer), Koray Yesilli and Brian Hindle (men's soccer), Moritz Ackerhans and Jan Juelicher (golf) and Verdun.

"I reached out to fellow student-athletes, and so many of them signed up to be a donor," Vekich said. "Some showed up to help us work and others came by and registered.

"It's nice to do something that doesn't necessarily benefit you, but could help save a life. It's kind of like paying it forward.

"It's awesome that we did so well. I know in 2011 at the bone marrow registation, DePaul athletes signed up 332 people in four days. We were able to register 214 potential donors in just two days."

Johnson returned to Be The Match with a glowing report.

"The two-day event was awesome," Johnson said. "The student-athlete volunteers were very engaging and the student body was really receptive. This was an exceptional response with a phenomenal outcome.

"The spirit and enthusiasm of the athletes was incredible in understanding what we were trying to accomplish. They were able to get their friends and fellow students involved.

"They engaged people and got them to understand that they had the potential to save a life. These student-athletes understood the mission and ran with it."

Corzine was equally impressed.

"It was a fantastic community-service event," Corzine said. "The enthusiasm of our student-athletes is the driving force behind the success. They relate well to all the other students at DePaul.

"Alex and Kirsten were tremendous, and those two drove the event. The success we had emanated from Alex, Kirsten and all the other Blue Demons."

Put another one on the board for Team DePaul.

"The power of people---it's awesome," Verdun said. "It makes you feel really good, like you really accomplished something. That's what it means to attend DePaul and believe in its Vincentian values.

"It's all about doing something for people in need. You feel good about helping someone else."

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