The College of Charleston volleyball student-athlete will undergo outpatient surgery on Dec. 10 to donate marrow. Harrell was a match to a 6-year-old girl with a rare genetic disorder that leads to bone marrow failure called Fancomi anemia.
“I get kind of emotional if I think about it too much,” said Harrell, a junior defensive specialist. “She would die if I didn’t match up with her. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to help someone else.”
Harrell described the procedure as “making three or four incisions and drilling into my bone and sucking the bone marrow out of my hip.”
She became involved in this life-saving process almost by happenstance. As a freshman, Harrell was walking by a bone marrow drive on her way to a biology lab on campus when her roommate urged her to stop and sign up for the bone marrow registry. The registry is part of the National Marrow Donor Program.
“I was talking to the person there giving me information about it and she was like, ‘Yeah, there’s a 1-in-150,000 chance that you’ll ever be a match for someone, but the odds are you’ll never be called,’” Harrell said.
The recipient is anonymous. She lives outside the United States, but that’s all Harrell knows. Allowed to send a letter to the recipient, Harrell isn’t sure what to say in this situation.
Outreach has helped shape Harrell’s academic experience. Inspired by the efforts of a South Carolina missionary who heads up the LAMB Institute in Honduras, the biology and psychology major is a part of regular medical mission trips to the Central American country.
“It gives me exposure to the type of thing I want to do, I want to be able to help people,” said Harrell, who hopes to attend medical school as her mother and grandfather did. “I love medicine and I love science. Just being around that is really helpful.”
Heavily invested in the cause is her mother Laurie Harrell, a radiation oncologist. Harrell’s sister Jamie, a freshman and tennis student-athlete at College of Charleston, is involved. They created a Service4Honduras Facebook page about their group, which also supports LAMB.
The group asks for donations from doctors and dentists and takes trunks of supplies with them to Honduras. (Harrell’s fundraising efforts helped raise $20,000.)
In Feb. 2011, Harrell will make her sixth trip to Honduras. She said the medical mission team usually stops at LAMB’s elementary school and residential children’s home before heading to rural villages.
“At first, they’re kind of stunned that a bunch of American doctors are just walking around in scrubs in their little villages,” she said. “But they’re so nice and friendly after you just smile at them and say hi…They’re just really happy to have any help they can get.”
Learn more about Harrell’s philanthropic side from this video posted by the Southern Conference.