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South Valley Riverton Journal

Community members hope to Be The Match

Feb 02, 2022 01:53PM ● By Jet Burnham

Hagan Walker provides a cheek swab to register as a donor on the national bone marrow transplant registry, in hopes of potentially saving a life. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Jones.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

As a freshman, Hagan Walker received support and advice—on eating, weight-lifting, football and life—from Jason Kupiec, a highly involved parent at Summit Academy High School, whose son played on the football team with Walker.

“He was always joking with me and all my friends,” said Walker, who is now a senior. “And he was a good mentor when he was around for the football season. He always had a smile on his face, and he was always looking for ways to help me.”

So when Kupiec was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma cancer last fall, and Walker learned he could possibly help save his mentor’s life, he didn’t hesitate. He registered for the Be The Match national bone marrow transplant registry.

Kupiec, who became the sports announcer and athletic staff member at SAHS, is doing well with his current treatments. But if he ever requires a bone marrow transplant, Walker hopes he would be a match. He would also be glad to help anyone else he matches with.

My thought process was, if I can just do this one simple thing that will help a good friend of mine, then I think I would do it for almost anybody,” Walker said. “It was something simple that I can do that can potentially save somebody's life. It was a no-brainer.”

That’s the message that members of SAHS’s HOSA Future Health Professionals chapter hope to promote.

As part of the national HOSA annual service project, they are registering as many people as possible for the national bone marrow registry to increase the probability that someone needing a transplant can find a donor.

“70% of individuals will not have a match within their family and so they'll need to find a match somewhere else,” SAHS HOSA adviser Dr. Jay Marshall said.

The HOSA members promote their campaign at school sporting events and activities, assisting adults aged 18-44 to register to be a potential donor.

SAHS HOSA adviser Kelly Jones said registering is a simple process.

“You just swab your cheek, and then you send it back in an envelope,” she said. “So it's a simple process to get on the registry. And we can do it right there. It takes maybe five minutes.”

Jones said their chapter has registered 70 people so far, the highest amount of all the Utah chapters, when she checked in December. They were also in fifth place nationally for fundraising totals at that time.

Jones said students are invested in the campaign because they hope someone in the community could be Kupiec’s match if a transplant becomes necessary for his treatment plan.

“They know somebody who's going through this that it can potentially affect,” she said. “I think that's been the biggest thing to get more of their involvement and to get them excited about a service project.”

Kupiec has been central to the campaign. He shared his story at the kick-off assembly and gives regular updates on his condition. One of the first swabbing events held was promoted with the tagline “Q-tip For Kupiec.”

Kupiec said he has been glad to help bring attention to the Be The Match registry, knowing that their personal connection to him has been what has inspired many to get swabbed and registered. But he also is touched that so many students and community members are willing to be a donor for anyone who needs one.

“I told them, even if they weren't able to save me with bone marrow, because maybe I wouldn't need it, or there was nobody that was a match, that they were still stepping up for somebody that they might not even know, that they might be able to make a difference for in their lives,” he said.

Nationally, there are over 12,000 people currently waiting to find a match for a bone marrow transplant. 

“We're hopefully going to be able to save somebody's life,” Jones said. “If not his, somebody else's.”

The students will continue to campaign throughout the school year to register as many people as possible. Marshall said just one out of 220 individuals that register will actually end up being a match for someone. He said there is a need for more volunteers of different ethnicities, whose match pools—and therefore their chances of finding a match—are significantly smaller.