May 19, 2016
German Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant 2015/2016
Bard College, Annandale on Hudson, NY
Every 3 minutes in the U.S. and every 15 minutes in Germany, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. It is the third leading cause of cancer deaths and kills more children than any other disease in the United States. But there is hope. It’s called Delete Blood Cancer.
My name is Dennis and I was a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) at Bard College in New York State in the academic year 2015/2016. The German Fulbright Commission has given me the opportunity to go to the U.S. so that I could improve my teaching skills as well as my English language skills. I am pursuing the dream of becoming an English teacher in Germany one day. I have completed my 9 month long Fulbright program in which I have been sharing both my native language and my culture with the students on campus.
Part of my personal culture is my passion for Delete Blood Cancer, a charitable organization which was founded in Germany in 1991 – the year in which I was born. When I arrived on campus last year, I decided that I also wanted to share this part of my culture, meaning my experience with and knowledge about DBC, with the campus community.
Delete Blood Cancer - in Germany known as “Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei” (DKMS) – has the world's largest database of potential stem cell donors. What are stem cell donors needed for? If a person has blood cancer, chemotherapy is not always a successful treatment. If it fails, there is one last chance for survival: Many patients can be saved by a stem cell transplant. However, this requires a donor who is nearly a genetic twin. Finding this perfect match is like finding a needle in a haystack. Only 30% of patients find a match within their family; the other 70% of patients (currently 14,000 in the US alone) rely on a perfect stranger to give them a second chance at life.
In order to help DBC expand their database of potential stem cell donors, I organized a stem cell donor drive at Bard College with the help of six other students. On the day of the event, April 13, we registered 302 new potential donors by swabbing the inside of their cheek to get their DNA. Considering that Bard College is a rather small college with a little more than 2000 students, this is a big success. The people we registered will be in the database until they are 61 years old (or asked to be removed). If they are a perfect match at some point in the future, they will get the chance to save somebody's life! Three years ago, I organized a donor drive at my university in Flensburg. Back then we registered 1400 people (on a campus with 8000 students) of which 10 have already donated.
Planning both drives took several months. The two weeks before the events, I really suffered. I was at my physical and psychological limit. I was happy to make this sacrifice, though, because I was and am aware that hopefully, these events took away years and years of suffering for entire families.
When people see how passionate I am about deleting blood cancer, they often ask me if I have a personal connection to the topic. The answer is no. Many people wait with any type of initiative until they have a personal reason to do so; maybe a family member or friend who went through something. Others fly to a different country to help. If we open our eyes, we will see that there are people in need right in our community. I try to live by a simple rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. If you truly live that rule, then you don’t need another reason to volunteer.
I really hope that I was/am able to inspire other people to take initiative. If you feel touched, how about registering as a potential donor and/or spreading the word? It’s a first step. Every healthy person between the age of 18 and 55 can sign up.
Last but not least, I want to recommend two short videos. One is a 2min video that does a good job explaining the donation process. The other one is the testimony of a patient who meets his donor for the first time.
How to become a blood stem cell donor with Delete Blood Cancer UK
Larry Wilson meets his donor
Senator Fulbright had the vision to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. All the people that signed up on April 13 to be potential stem cell donors had to be willing to donate to any patient in need, anywhere in the world, regardless of their race, gender, religion or ethnicity. I hope that by bringing this event to Bard I have been successful in contributing to Senator Fulbright’s vision.