Marlon Etnel has experience beating the odds. Some twenty years ago, Marlon was a member of the Amsterdam Crusaders amateur American Football club and working in the back office of the NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals franchise. Based on his performance in an informal parking lot game with other Admirals staff, he caught the eye of a coach and was invited to try out for the professional team. Against all odds, was invited to join the Admirals as a “National Player” and played a season with pros in the Amsterdam ArenA. Following his year with the Admirals, he played a season in Germany for the Munich Cowboys before finishing up with the Crusaders. Marlon would then trade in his football cleats for dancing shoes and spent a number of years as an accomplished salsa dancer.
Twenty years later and the odds are not in Marlon’s favor. In American football terms, he is facing fourth and ten, down a touchdown with time running out in the last quarter. Marlon has a rare form of lymphatic cancer and without a stem cell donor, his time will run out. His cancer is resistant to chemotherapy and the pills he takes to slow its advance are already nearing the end of their usefulness. It is said that American football is a game of inches, but on Marlon’s playing field it is even smaller than that. The microscopic genetic make-up of cells is the key to victory in this battle against the odds.
A perfect match from a stem cell donor could save Marlon but to date, no match has been found. Stem cells donors are still too few and far between. Marlon’s old club, the Amsterdam Crusaders have set off on a ‘last drive’ to spread the word and call upon everyone they can reach to do what they can to help. American Football is a good fit for this challenge. For starters, donors need to be in decent shape and relatively young. In Marlon’s case – a suitable donor will have African roots which are in short supply but the American football community is a great platform to reach young people of color. Longtime Crusader Coach Winston Ronde has called for the bar to be raised when it comes to the number of registered donors. Secondly, American Footballers are known for two things: big mouths and even bigger hearts. Even those who are not candidate donors can help spread the word. Lastly, while the normal procedure is no more invasive than a blood plasma donation, there may be a call for a marrow donation. American football players know all too well that often great achievement comes through personal sacrifice and they look to inspire each other and their friends and family to join their ‘Crusade’.
The Crusaders have a simple message: “Every day we are bombarded by pleas for our money or our time – two things that are sometimes in short supply but by registering as a stem cell donor, you have the incredible opportunity to give the gift of life. Be that match and give that gift. Time is running out for Marlon and countless others like him throughout the world.”
Registration is relatively easy. In the Netherlands, the responsible organisation is Matchis, headquartered in Leiden. Donor candidates do need to be reasonably fit and the optimal age is between 18-35. For that age band, registration is free of charge. Candidates aged 36-55 can register but will need to pay a fee. Once registered, the donor candidate will be sent a sample collection kit by post. The procedure is amazingly simple and completely painless. One simply swabs the inside of the cheek, pops the swab into a plastic envelope and mails the kit back to the lab. Once analyzed, the donor’s cell details are entered into a database and when a match is found, the donor will be contacted for a potential donation. Donors who have been selected have recounted their journey as miracles and great triumphs. Needles to say, the recipients who have been cured feel the same way!
More information about stem cell registration can be found on the Matchis website: www.matchis.nl. Potential donors outside the Netherlands can turn to www.swabtheworld.com, a Canadian website offering links to many local stem cell donor registries throughout the world. The procedures are fairly similar globally and goal is the same: by getting more and more people registered as donors, the odds for Marlon and so many others in the same situation will get a lot better! Be the match, register today if you are eligible and spread the word!
Written by John Mahnen