Former football player donates marrow

On March 25, former Rhode Island football player Evan Shields (No. 4, below)became the eleventh person to donate bone marrow and help save the life of a stranger through the football team’s annual marrow registration drive.

footballShields, whose senior season was 2011, was in his home state of Maryland when he got the call from the Rhode Island Blood Center that he was a match for a leukemia patient.

“Initially I was caught off guard, but other people on my former team had already donated marrow, so that made me feel more comfortable,” Shields says. He researched the impact that donating would have on his own body, but in the end, the deciding factor was learning that statistically, very few minorities ever find a match.

Donating was a profound responsibility that he accepted gladly: “I knew it would be painful, but I thought if I didn’t do it, the person could die,” Shields says. “A little bit of pain I’d be receiving was nothing in comparison to years of pain the patient may have been experiencing. Honestly, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I feel honored.”

Shields’ marrow was harvested at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C. He learned more than he ever thought he’d know about what it means to be on the other end of a donation: “You don’t know the entire time until the actual procedure is done whether it’ll work. Along with that, prior to the procedure you aren’t told whether or not the donor agreed to go through with it.”

For donors, the process involves general anesthesia, sometimes a night in the hospital, and a few days or weeks of discomfort and occasional fatigue. URI’s football team has led annual registration drives since 2009, successfully matching, six current or former athletes and another five registrants.

Would Shields go through it again?

“You have to treat others the way you’d want to be treated,” he says. “Imagine if you were in their position—dying. I can’t imagine being in a hospital bed, knowing that the only thing that would help me survive is an exact match from a stranger. Of course I’d do it again.”