Saving Jennifer Jones Austin

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CUNY and the New York Blood Center (NYBC) kick off blood and bone marrow drive at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

CUNY and the New York Blood Center team up to host a blood and bone marrow drive.

Since December 5th, we’ve had about 50 blood and bone marrow drives. With the help of BMCC, we can sign more people up for the registry, and help Jennifer -- who donated blood herself on a regular basis before her diagnosis -- and so many.

Yesterday, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) launched a city-wide blood and bone marrow drive in conjunction with New York Blood Center (NYBC) and The City University of New York (CUNY).

Nearly 110 blood donors and 50 bone marrow registrants, including BMCC students, staff and faculty, participated in the drive. Other CUNY campuses throughout the five boroughs will hold blood and bone marrow drives.

These blood and bone marrow drives aim to help save the lives of hundreds of patients, like Jennifer Jones Austin, who are in need of a bone marrow or cord blood transplant.

A Brooklyn-based mother, lawyer and family advocate, Jennifer has been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She has become ‘the face’ of this special mission.

Members of the BMCC Community Register to ‘Be The Match’

At BMCC, technicians from the New York Blood Center drew blood from the arms of donors, while NYBC representatives from the “Be The Match” National Marrow Donor Program recruited people to take the first step in becoming a bone marrow donor.

Unfortunately, Jennifer Jones Austin does not have a matching donor in her family and is depending on the “Be The Match” Registry—the largest listing of volunteer marrow donors in the world—to find a match. Patients are more likely to find a match from donors who share the same race or ethnicity. Yet, out of the registry of millions, fewer than 10 percent are African Americans. The “Be The Match” Registry drive is aimed at addressing that situation.

Bone marrow registration only involves completing a health history form, including questions about ethnicity, and providing a swab of cheek cells.

Donating blood is “a civic responsibility”

BMCC President Antonio Pérez was the emcee at the CUNY/New York Blood Center press conference.

“Our students should be aware of what happens around the city,” he said. “That includes helping other human beings. Donate blood and be involved—be part of this community and part of the city.”

Pérez said donating blood or adding your name to the “Be The Match” Registry is “a civic responsibility.”
“Donating blood is easy, safe and painless—it’s also tremendously rewarding,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to save someone’s life.”

Pérez reminded the audience that Jennifer Jones Austin’s own close friends were, unfortunately, not a blood or bone marrow match. “You can become part of a new circle of friends that can help her,” he said.

BMCC serves ‘a critical role’ in helping others

Dr. Peter Grant Jordan, Interim Vice Chancellor, Division of Student Affairs for CUNY, also spoke at the press conference, stating that the CUNY community, including BMCC, serve a “critical role” in servicing New York City.

“Blood is the most precious gift anyone can give,” he said, reminding the audience that donating is “neighbor helping neighbor.”

According to Dr. Jordan, CUNY is recognized as one of the top five organizations working with the New York Blood Center.

Dr. Christopher Hillyer, President and Chief Executive Officer, New York Blood Center, also spoke. He said that blood and bone marrow donations are extremely important for patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy.

“We look for blood every day,” said Dr. Hillyer. “The New York Blood Center needs 1,500 units of blood every day to serve the community. When it comes to blood and bone marrow donation, in this case, we’re all one.”

Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Chair of the City Council Health Committee, spoke after Dr. Hillyer, thanking Jennifer Jones Austin for “making this [mission] personal for us,” and for putting a face to a name when it came to donation.

Shawn Austin speaks on behalf of his wife

A match has yet to be found for Jennifer Jones Austin, who wasn’t able to attend the drive, but her husband, Shawn Austin, was grateful to see such a large crowd of supporters for his wife at BMCC.

Shawn spoke about how busy Jennifer’s life has been, attending family events and running errands for their young daughter and son. That is, until Jennifer’s whole life changed in an instant. “She was tired. She thought she just had a virus,” said Shawn. “Turns out, she had leukemia and was in the ICU for ten days.”

Shawn thanked the BMCC family on behalf of his own. “If she were here, you’d see tears from her because of all this wonderful community response.”

He went on to say that when Jennifer learned that neither her brother nor her two sisters would be a possible match for her, the family turned to the “Be The Match” database, and fellow New Yorkers, for help.

“Since December 5th, we’ve had about 50 blood and bone marrow drives,” said Shawn Austin. “With the help of BMCC, we can sign more people up for the registry, and help Jennifer—who donated blood herself on a regular basis before her diagnosis—and so many others.”

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) enrolls over 22,000 degree-seeking and 10,000 Continuing Education students a year. The largest community college in The City University of New York (CUNY) system, BMCC has students from more than 155 countries, and awards associates degrees in over 27 fields.

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Rachel Sokol
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