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Sugar-Salem grad receives call to save a man’s life

Health

SUGAR CITY — Football player, college student, cheerleader, track star, son, brother, friend.

Dylan Pope is all of those, but the description he’s proud of most is stem cell donor.

The 21-year-old was raised in Sugar City, where he played football, cheered and ran track for Sugar-Salem High School. Three years ago, he began attending and playing football at the University of Montana Western in Dillon, Montana.

“Last March, my sister sent me an invite to sign up for BeTheMatch.Org. I’ve always enjoyed helping people so I signed up,” Pope tells EastIdahoNews.com.

Dylan Pope football
Dylan Pope plays football for the University of Montana Western in Dillon, Montana. | Courtesy Dylan Pope

Be The Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program and has the largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world. Pope entered his information on the website and received a kit in the mail that included swabs he rubbed inside his mouth. He sent the kit back and didn’t think much about it.

Pope’s older sister, Myriah Pope, registered with Be The Match in 2017.

“I saw a video on social media with a mom encouraging people to sign up. I ordered my swab kit and got it in the mail,” Myriah recalls. “Dylan called as I was swabbing my cheek and asked what I was doing. I told him about it, and he said he was interested.”

Myriah was hopeful her stem cells or bone marrow would be needed by someone somewhere in America. She is still waiting for a match, but months after Dylan returned his cheek swabs, his phone started buzzing.

“They called me a couple of times, but it came up as a number I didn’t recognize so I thought it was a spam caller. I didn’t answer, and they texted asking me to call them,” Pope says. “I called, and they told me I was the match for somebody that was in pretty desperate need of a transplant.”

Because of privacy laws, Pope wasn’t told much about the recipient other than he was male, Caucasian and had a blood disease that prohibited his stem cells from producing as they should. Be The Match said one in 430 people in their registry become donors and the odds of Pope matching with his recipient was around one in a million.

Pope immediately called Myriah to share the good news.

“I was in the backyard raking leaves, and he kept calling. Finally, I answered and said, ‘I’m busy. What do you need?'” she explains. “He said, ‘I’m a match.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah right. You’re funny. I’ve been signed up for four years, so I know you’re not a match.’ He kept telling me it was true, and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Plans were made for Pope to travel to an undisclosed hospital in another state. He brought his 19-year-old brother with him, and for five days, Pope received injections to increase the stem cell count in his blood. Then donation day arrived.

Dylan Pope donating stem cells
Dylan Pope says it took eight hours for him to donate stem cells. | Courtesy Dylan Pope

“They stuck a needle in my right arm that was taking blood out and stuck a needle in my left arm that was pumping blood back in. They would just cycle it through a machine that was extracting the stem cell through my blood,” Pope says.

The process was eight hours long. Pope was able to eat, with the help of nurses, and he even took a nap as his blood circulated. When it was all over, he left the hospital and returned home. Pope was told the recipient received the stem cells two days later.

“After they gave him my stem cells, his blood type changed to my blood type because my stem cells essentially took over, and they’re going to start producing and turn into my blood type,” Pope says.

Pope is now coordinating with Be The Match and writing letters to the anonymous recipient. At the one year mark of the donation, Pope hopes to meet the person with his stem cells.

“I think it will be really cool that possibly he just got another year of life because I signed up. I’m really excited for it,” Pope says.

Pope’s family members, friends, coaches and teachers have been supportive of him, and he hopes his story will encourage others, especially those in minority populations, to sign up on Be The Match.

According to the Institute for Justice, Caucasian patients find an unrelated bone marrow donor or stem cell match about 75% of the time, but that number drops to 25% for African-Americans. Asian and Hispanic patients find a donor 40 to 45% of the time.

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Pope, who had never donated blood or plasma before his stem cell procedure, says he is ready to answer the call to help if it comes again. He has a message for anyone reading this story:

“Go sign up. It was scary when I got the call because I don’t do very good with needles and shots. Then I thought, ‘What if it was somebody in my family that needed a stem cell transplant and someone signed up and got the call?’ I hope they would choose to donate and save someone that I love. It can be an entire world to somebody – a whole family can get a couple years with someone they love because of eight hours out of one day.”

To sign up with Be The Match, text “Bulldogs” to 61474. You will be sent a link and directed to a form, which will take about eight minutes to complete.

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