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September 4, 2019

SVSU nursing student’s bone marrow donation could save leukemia patient’s life

When Haley Ludviksen helped her student organization bring a bone marrow donor drive to Saginaw Valley State University six years ago, the nursing major never expected she might be the one to give a potentially lifesaving gift to a person in need.

The unexpected happened this summer.

Ludviksen's journey as a bone marrow donor began her freshman year at SVSU in 2013. That’s when the Cadillac native helped found SVSU’s chapter of the Lions Club. The organization soon contacted Gift of Life, a nonprofit that coordinates bone marrow screenings and provides support as well as transportation to donors. A donor registration drive organized that academic year by Ludviksen and the Lions Club involved a simple cheek swab to collect DNA, which then was analyzed and paired with potential matches.

“It’s pretty rare, honestly, to be a match for someone, because all of the tiny little elements of your blood have to match perfectly,” Ludviksen said. “So, I was really surprised to get the call.”

“The call” came last year, when Ludviksen was informed she was matched with a patient who would need a bone marrow transplant in 2019. Fast forward to this year when, in June, Gift of Life arranged a flight for Ludviksen to travel to the organization’s collection center in Fairfax, Virginia.

After a physical and routine blood work to confirm Ludviksen was healthy enough for the donation, she received an injection every day for four days that promoted white blood cell growth in her bone marrow.

“Since I was a nursing student, they let me do the injections myself, so that was cool,” she said.

On June 10, Ludviksen underwent a peripheral stem cell donation. The donation involves medical staff using a dialysis machine to filter specific types of cells out of her blood over the course of several hours. The procedure is less invasive than other types of marrow donations, which might involve drilling into the donor’s bones to extract the material, she said.

While the privacy of bone marrow donation candidates is protected, Ludviksen does know that her match is a 54-year-old man who suffers from leukemia. If the remaining donation process goes well, patients and donors have the option to contact each other one year after the donation.

“Being able to see what I will get to see as a nurse — as well as being a really integral part of the process of helping someone get better — was a really special experience,” said Ludviksen, who plans to graduate from SVSU in December.

“Everyone should sign up to be a donor.”