Theresa Civitella ’13 Becomes ‘Match’ for Italian Leukemia Patient
Moravian Graduate Encourages Others to Sign Up for ‘Be The Match’ Drive
By: Alyssa D’Ippolito ’15
Most people would jump at the chance to save a person’s life. For Theresa Civitella ’13, her chance became a reality because she decided to sign up for the College’s annual “Be The Match Bone Marrow Registration Drive,” hosted by Moravian’s football team, during her sophomore year.
Although she participated in the drive nearly three years before, Civitella was recently selected to donate her cells to an acute myelogenous leukemia patient in Italy. “I was surprised to find out that I was found to be a match, especially for someone who lives so far away,” she said.
Civitella recalled that she was at work when her mother sent her a picture of the letter explaining that she was a match and asking her to call immediately. “I gave them a call as soon as I could,” Civitella said. “I wanted to know everything I could do to help.”
The process began with a physical and blood work in order to make sure that Civitella was healthy enough to go through with the procedure. For the five days leading up to the procedure, Civitella was required to get a shot in each arm once a day to help her body overproduce white blood cells. These white blood cells were then transferred into the patient.
“It was interesting to learn that when my cells are transferred to the patient his blood type will change to match mine,” Civitella added.
The day of the procedure, Civitella traveled to Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia where she underwent apheresis, the process by which the blood of a patient is passed through a machine that separates the white blood cells and then returns the remainder of the blood back into the patient.
The procedure took a total of seven hours. During that time, Civitella said she simply laid down and watched a “Bones” marathon on television.
“I was nervous because I don’t care for needles, but I was so excited to be helping someone that the excitement calmed my nerves,” Civitella explained. “Though it was a little daunting to have the needles in my arm for so long.”
When Civitella decided to sign up for the bone marrow donation drive, she didn’t think of it as an option. Rather, she thought of it as a necessity and something that every healthy person should do.
“The time that I spent at the drive and during the procedure is much shorter than what these patients are going through,” Civitella said. “If I can help him get some of his health back, it was well worth the little portion of my time.”
ABOVE: The night before her procedure, Civitella grabbed a quick photograph with her mom.
ABOVE: Civitella gathers with her family following her graduation from Moravian last spring.
For the protection of both the patient and the donor, contact is not allowed between Civitella and the marrow recipient.
Although she wishes she could meet the man who will receive her blood cells, Civitella said that she understands why she is not allowed to communicate him. She does know that the man is 45 years old and lives in Italy. Civitella said that this piece of information was moving.
“I am Italian and I’m very proud of my heritage. Learning that the man who was receiving my blood cells was from Italy made me feel as though there was a special connection,” she explained.
While Civitella feels back to normal, the full recovery from the procedure took nearly two weeks. The shots she received prior to the procedure makes the body’s muscles sore and can give patients' flu-like symptoms. “I looked like I was 80 years old for a while,” she laughed.
Civitella admits that she was in pain for some time after the procedure was completed, but she explained the process wasn’t as difficult as people might assume.
Civitella encourages as many people to register for the drive as possible, but she understands there is misinformation out there. “I was really surprised by the misconceptions that the majority of people have about this process,” she said. “Everyone thinks that it is much worse than it really is. As the medical field grows, these procedures are improved and become more advanced.”
Since her graduation last May, Civitella has started working for Access Services, a nonprofit organization for people with mental health disorders. She also spends her days as a dog trainer.
“I’m very thankful that Moravian hosts a program like this,” Civitella said. “I wouldn’t have been able to help someone in need if it wasn’t for the donation drive.”
The Moravian football team, which partners with the Be The Match Foundation in participating in the Get in the Game, Save a Life Program, hosted its fourth annual Be The Match Bone Marrow Donor Registration Drive in April 2013. In total, Moravian has accounted for 1,037 registrations in four years, including four matches.
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