The Mighty Sound of the Southeast has been making noise to help save lives. For the last five years the South Carolina Band has been working with Be the Match, a national organization that raises awareness for blood diseases and registers potential bone marrow donors.
“It’s another way that we can make a difference for people,” said Carolina Band Director Cormac Cannon. “We’re committed to what we do at the football games to entertain and get people excited about the team, but to have this opportunity where you can actually save someone’s life really resonates with our kids. The fact that it all started here at South Carolina, and that we’ve motivated so many other bands and universities to do this, is a real point of pride for us.”
Former Carolina Band Director Rebecca Phillips previously started the connection with Be the Match and encouraged band members to sign up for the national registry. Things began to snowball from there with Clemson’s Band also joining in. Phillips and Be the Match worked to get other bands around the country involved and created the “BANDing Together” program which resulted in thousands of registrants for potential donation across the country.
“It’s a big group of healthy, service-minded kids, who are excited about their university and want to help people,” Cannon said. “Rebecca started it, and since I’ve been here, we started contacting other band directors. We’ve done drives now for five years within the band, and the last couple of years, we’ve gone out on campus to try to get more students involved. We’ve had over 10,000 people join the registry just through marching bands. Out of that, 23 people have become matches and went on to donate to somebody. We’ve had eight people from just our drives on campus to get matched with people."
“The involvement from the Carolina Band is beyond incredible,” said Ashley Collier, Senior Community Engagement Manager for Be the Match. “The Carolina Band has added 557 new donors to the national registry. Eight members of the Carolina Band have donated marrow or stem cells to a searching patient. Only 1 in 430 actually donate to a patient, so to have 8 donors from a group of 557 new donors added is crazy! The Carolina Band is a large and diverse group of students and they understand the impact they are making in the lives of people battling blood cancers and blood disorders.”
That includes current band member, senior Matthew Warren, who was notified last January that he was a match.
“I originally signed up because I knew it could help someone,” Warren said. “The idea of saving someone’s life and giving them hope is pretty powerful. It meant a lot to me. The odds of getting chosen [as a match] are so small, so I was excited.”
Overcoming myths about the process is a challenge as becoming part of the program is a simple swab in the mouth to get a DNA sample.
“It’s super simple,” Cannon said. “It’s an oral swab that goes in a kit with contact information that gets sent to the lab. That goes into a big database where they try to match people. It’s very complex because it has to do with your DNA, and not as simple as matching a blood type.”
The idea of saving someone’s life and giving them hope is pretty powerful.Matthew Warren
If you are chosen as a match, the most common method of bone marrow donation is easy and painless, similar to a blood transfusion. In some cases, there is a more surgical procedure which Warren underwent, but he said, “it’s not that bad.”
“They drilled into my hip bone,” Warren said with a laugh. “I was asleep for the whole thing. The surgery didn’t hurt at all, and when I woke up, I was sore, but after two or three days I could walk around pretty easily. The pain was similar to falling down on the ice. It wasn’t unbearable at all.”
More Gamecocks are getting involved as well. After a representative from Be the Match came to speak to South Carolina’s Beach Volleyball team last year, every member of the team signed up for the bone marrow registry.
“It’s just so simple; a little swab and then you’re done,” said assistant coach R.J. Abella. “Our team is very community-service minded, and our girls always want to help out. We helped out with the band because the band completely runs these drives on campus. They do such a great job.”
Donors and recipients don’t normally get to meet each other, and was the case with Warren as his recipient was a woman in another country. However, another South Carolina student, Miles Moody, signed up on campus, became a match, and will meet his recipient, Lianne McCarthy, on January 20 during halftime of the men’s basketball game at Colonial Life Arena.
“We’ve talked a lot, but meeting in-person is going to be a totally different feeling,” Moody said. “I was speechless when I was told I was a match, I just dropped everything I was doing, and I was just so excited that I could be a match for someone. It feels good that I was able to do something that is so good with very little effort. It feels great.”
“Lianne is here today, and thriving post-cancer, because of Miles’ selfless act,” Collier said. "She most likely wouldn’t be alive if Miles would have not followed through. He donated to a person he didn’t know who is genetically identical to him.”
Cannon recently went to Minneapolis, Minn., to accept a National Leadership Award from Be the Match. While he was there, he saw bone marrow recipients who survived due to the generosity of others.
“To sit down with these people who have been recipients, and to see them now, is really incredible,” Cannon said. “It’s good to teach kids from different bands and different universities that we can doing something other than beating each other on the football field.”