The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 10, 2013

Former SWE cheer coach marrow’s a match

Effort to help friend now helps mystery person

The Daily Southerner

TARBORO — Ashley Hawkins, 24, of Tarboro, has a chance to become someone’s hero. The former cheerleading coach at SouthWest Edgecombe High School recently found out that she is eligible to donate bone marrow to a person in need.

“A FedEx came to my door on Monday. It came from DKMS Americas (a non-profit organization that recruits bone marrow donors) and said that I was a match. I was overwhelmed,” Hawkins said. “I’ve always been wanting to help people and make a difference. It’s exciting.”

Hawkins joined the bone marrow donor registry at a drive for SouthWest cheerleading coach, Teresa Summerlin Mobley, in October. Mobley has a rare form of leukemia (cancer of the blood cells), and found her bone marrow donor – double first cousin Dale Holland – as a result of the drive. Her transplant is scheduled for the last week of the month.

Joining the bone marrow registry requires only a 10-second cheek swab with a Q-tip® and filling out paperwork.

“You swab your cheek and you hope for it, but the chances are small that you’ll ever be a match,” Hawkins said.

Only one in 570 people who join the bone marrow registry receive calls for being a match, but it only takes one person to save somebody’s life, said Christian Montgomery of DKMS Americas, at the drive for Mobley.

“We only find matches for about 50 percent of patients,” said Montgomery. “The more donors, the more lives we save.”

Hawkins knew little about bone marrow transplants when she joined the donor registry, saying, “You really don’t know what you’re getting into,” but that the reward of donating will outweigh her own discomfort.

“Just do it. Don’t be scared. Take a chance,” Hawkins said. “Yeah, I might have some pain, but think about the pain the family’s going to have if I didn’t do it.”

Hawkins’ next step in the donor process is go to a lab on Friday for blood work. After she receives the results of the lab work, she will have to wait anywhere from two weeks to two months to donate her bone marrow, which will be extracted either from her hip or through an IV. Eventually, Hawkins would like to meet the recipient of the transplant.

“The patient’s going to think, ‘I get a second chance to tell somebody how much I love them,” Hawkins said. She believes that being a donor will increase her compassion for others by making her “more aware of what people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”

Hawkins plans to have a career in the medical field and is in her last semester of the respiratory therapy program at Edgecombe Community College.

“I have good instructors and they know what I’m about to take on,” Hawkins said. “It’s nice to know that I have the support of family, community, friends.”

Hawkins’ 14-year-old sister Samantha, a member of the SouthWest cheerleading squad, spoke enthusiastically about Hawkins’ opportunity to donate bone marrow.

“I was happy. I was excited,” she said. “I’m glad for the person [recipient] who is able to get the rest of their life they’re going to have.”

Seeing Mobley’s battle with leukemia prompted Hawkins to raise awareness of blood cancer. Mobley’s daughter, Tonia Summerlin, a member of the SouthWest cheerleading squad, organized the drive, which resulted in more than 100 people joining the bone marrow registry.

“My coach is like my second mama to me. Seeing this many people come just to see if she would find a donor meant a lot to me,” Samantha said.

In a small community, “everybody knows everybody and at one point or another, they’re willing to help,” Hawkins said.

Those interested in joining the bone marrow registry can register online at Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 55.