WILLIAMSBURG — Last spring, during his team’s Be The Match drive, Charles Grant added his name to the national bone marrow registry. There was no guarantee he’d be called. Even if he was, he would be under no obligation to go through with the donation process.
Yet notified last month that he’d been identified as a match, Grant never considered backing out. He underwent a seven-hour non-surgical procedure — the only pain, which he compared to a mosquito bite, was a needle positioned in each arm — to hopefully save the life of a complete stranger.
“I knew what I was signing up for,” said Grant, a William & Mary offensive lineman who started all 13 games last season. “It was very important to me, and I’m very glad I did it.”
Of the 9 million names on the Be The Match registry, only 630,000 (7%) are African-American. The reason that matters is because in most matches, the donor and recipient are from the same ethnic background.
“You’ve got to help people who look like you,” said Grant, a junior from Portsmouth. “It’s very important to get more people of African-American descent on the registry.
Like Carpenter and Williamson before him, Grant doesn’t consider himself special.
“Charles is a very humble guy, so he doesn’t look at it as being such a big deal,” said Grant’s mother, Jackie. “When he texted me and let me know he was going to do it the following week, I asked him if he was sure.
“His take was, ‘Well, I started the process and they called me. I have to go through with it.’ I was amazed at how calm he was about it. It was almost like another thing for him to do.”
As for the recipient, all Grant knows is the age (29) and disease (Hodgkin’s lymphoma). “I think as time goes,” he said, “I’ll be informed little by little.”
Grant said he’d like to meet the individual someday, as Williamson did three years after his donation.”
On May 17 at MedStar Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., Grant had needles inserted in both arms. From one, blood was drawn and passed through a machine that collected blood stem cells. The remaining blood was returned to Grant’s body through the needle in his other arm.
“The most painful part was leaving the needle in my arm because they had to move it around to find the right spot,” he said. “Other than that, it wasn’t painful at all. I had some muscle tightness during the shots, but in the procedure, I did fine.”
The football program became involved with the university’s Alan Bukzin Memorial Bone Marrow Drive in 2014 at the suggestion of Madeline Montgomery, a high school senior at the time who is the daughter of former Tribe player Joe Montgomery ’74. Jimmye Laycock was the coach then, and Mike London took it over in 2019.
Although Laycock has long been a strong proponent, London brings a unique perspective. In 2003, he was identified as a match for his 4-year-old daughter, Ticynn, who had been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder.
Today, Ticynn has a B.S. from Old Dominion and a Master’s from the University of Lynchburg. She is the head athletic trainer at Heritage High School in Lynchburg.
Many who are unfamiliar with the donation process assume all are surgical with anesthesia and involve marrow being drawn from the back of the pelvic bone. In truth, according to Be The Match, those make up only 10% of the donations. PBSC procedures, as Grant underwent, are done 90% of the time.
“Modern medicine has changed and is so advanced now,” London said. “You marvel at the technology and the medical advances. The goal is to get out and educate people. Get them to sign up.
Grant plans to share that first-hand experience during the Tribe’s next drive and whenever the subject of donating bone marrow arises.
“People during the drive often say, ‘Oh, I don’t want it to hurt,'” Grant said. “And I can honestly give them my experience and give them the reasons why they should join.”