A senior volleyball player at Howard University spent her final conference tournament in recovery after making a lifesaving blood stem cell donation to a stranger.
Jurnee Farrell, 21, has played volleyball for Howard University throughout her four years at the school. During sophomore year her coach, Shaun Kupferberg, encouraged the women on his team to register with Be The Match, an organization that works to save lives through marrow donation, through a registration table they had on campus.
"Growing up my dad worked at a children’s hospital in Chicago. I grew up in that type of environment and saw what an organ donation or a tissue donation can do for a family,” Kupferberg said. “If somebody’s life can be saved by a simple donation it’s obviously an easy thing to do and we should be helping."
Farrell got her cheek swabbed and registered as a potential donor with Be The Match. Two years later she received a call letting her know that she was a match for a 57-year-old woman with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The organization informed her that becoming a donor would involve several months of physicals and blood tests -- but that Farrell’s donation could also save this woman’s life.
“It wasn’t registering to me that I would be saving someone’s life. I was just like, okay, I registered for this thing and I’m going to go through with it,” Farrell said. “It took me a lot of time to realize what I was doing.”
According to Be The Match’s website, African Americans have just a 23% chance of finding a matched adult donor through its registry.
Farrell's donation date was Nov. 19. Recovery from the procedure, doctors informed her, would take 7 to 10 days.
Donating that day also meant that she would miss playing in the final conference tournament with her teammates, taking place that weekend.
"It was bittersweet, but it was definitely a no-brainer," Farrell said. "If somebody gets the opportunity to save someone’s life, whether it be a stranger or a family member, I would hope that it’s a no-brainer for everybody."
Kupferberg encouraged her to go through with the donation. “You’re doing something bigger than volleyball," he told her.
“I talk to our team all the time about priorities. Obviously, contributing something of this magnitude is a priority,” Kupferberg said. “It was a pretty easy decision. If you want to talk about what you contribute to the world in twenty years and you can tell anybody that you had the chance to save someone’s life -- that’s a major accomplishment.”
Farrell went through the donation procedure and a few days later was sitting on a bench cheering while her teammates won the conference title. They advance to the NCAA volleyball tournament, in which Farrell will take part.
"It’s one of those things that everything always works out the way it’s supposed to,” Kupferberg said. “You want to see her rewarded for making the right decision. Getting to play in the NCAA tournament is a blessing after all of that.”
Farrell will find out in one year through Be The Match if her donation was successful. If so, she has the option to anonymously reach out to the donor.
“I really want to meet her and put a face to such a big part of my life now,” Farrell said. “I think it becomes real when you’re donating but that feeling would be elevated even more if I were able to meet this person.”
For anyone looking to become a donor, Farrell has a message.
“You’re saving someone’s life and it’s super, super easy,” Farrell said. “For you to be in pain for four or five days is nothing compared to someone who’s been in pain for months. If you get the opportunity to save someone’s life with such an easy process -- you shouldn’t hesitate.”