My Experience Volunteering with There Goes My Hero

Hello lovely readers,

My name is Lillian Richards Smith, and I am a senior at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD. I am so excited about the opportunity to share my transformative experience with There Goes My Hero (TGMH). I first connected with TGMH through my school’s community service coordinators and after meeting Andrea Hernandez to learn more about what the organization does, I decided to collaborate with TGMH for my school’s senior project. Since my time with TGMH, I have learned so much about blood cancer and what they do to help those impacted.

On my first day, TGMH was holding their 13th annual Join for Joe bone marrow donor registry drive at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, MD. It was fast paced as many students were eager to join, but with the help of the TGMH staff members (Andrea, Olivia, & Mary Kaye), I was able to understand the process and help students register. For those unfamiliar with the registration process, we ask the potential donor to complete a form with their contact information after determining that they meet the eligibility requirements—then the swabbing takes place. A swab kit contains three swabs, and it only takes three minutes to complete. With the first swab, the individual swabs one cheek for 60 seconds and then the same thing with the second swab in the other cheek for another 60 seconds. With the third swab, the individual will move the swab all around their mouth as if they were brushing their teeth—this is so that we can find the best possible match if they’re ever needed as a bone marrow donor. That day at Loyola Blakefield, I was thrilled to witness over 30 people register and become potential donors!

A few days later, I attended a second drive with TGMH at Century Plaza in Columbia, MD, where we were able to educate passersby on how they could help someone with blood cancer. Though this drive was a bit slower, a lot of the people who registered were from diverse backgrounds. TGMH has an initiative called Color the Registry to encourage people of color and other ethnically diverse backgrounds to join the registry since individuals from diverse backgrounds have a significantly low chance of finding a match if they need a donor.  Matches are made by identifying the donor’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers which help an individual’s immune system determine which cells belong in your body and which cells don’t. These HLA markers are similar amongst people from the same ethnicity and a closer match in these markers will make a successful transplant outcome more likely. That said, the Century Plaza Drive was a success even with only a few people joining the registry.

In addition to registering people to the bone marrow donor registry, TGMH does a phenomenal job at supporting individuals with blood cancer and their families. I was able to witness this serviceability during TGMH’s Meals with Heroes volunteer opportunity at the Johns Hopkins Hackerman-Patz Patient and Family Pavilion. At this event, TGMH staff work with volunteers to make home-cooked meals and cards of encouragement for the cancer patients and their families living there. Interacting with the patients and their families was the best part because the genuine connection I made with them was invaluable.

Before I sign off, I want to say a big thank you to TGMH and their incredible staff for making my work with them possible. Learning about blood cancer and the bone marrow donor registry has been such an amazing opportunity and I would highly recommend coming out to volunteer and even register for the bone marrow donor registry because of the impact you can make. It’s been a pleasure contributing to this community and engaging with readers who are passionate about making a difference.