Aug 05, 2020

Alum Justin Garza inspires blood and marrow drive

Fresno State will be hosting the largest blood and marrow registry drive in 20 years in an effort to join alumnus and Central High School football coach Justin Garza in raising awareness about the National Marrow Registry Program.

More than 1,000 students are projected to give blood and sign up for the registry when the drive kicks off Tuesday. The drive, which runs through Thursday, will be hosted in four locations across campus.

Garza, a 1997 graduate, was diagnosed in 2010 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the body’s ability to fight infection. After undergoing 36 chemotherapy treatments and a stem-cell transplant in 2013, Garza, now in his third year as Central High’s varsity head coach, led the Grizzlies to a Tri-River Athletic Conference championship with a school record of 11 wins in 2012.

When his treatments proved ineffective in late spring, Garza learned that he needed a marrow transplant, but he wasn’t able to find a match among close family and friends.

This inspired him to start the “Stand For More” campaign to raise awareness not only for himself, but for the 12,000 other patients diagnosed yearly in the United States with life-threatening diseases that could be slowed or cured by a marrow transplant.

Tosha Giuffrida, interim director of the Learning Center at Fresno State, grew up attending school with Garza. Describing Garza as a normally private person, Giuffrida said by going public “[Garza] knew he could make a difference in the lives of others just by coming out, because there was a need for people in the marrow registry.”

Part of the problem for people looking for donors is that 67 percent of the current National Marrow Donor Program is composed of white participants. Hispanics make up 10 percent of the registry and African-Americans and Asians comprise less than 7 percent, making it much more difficult for people of these ethnicities to find a match within the donor program.

“Fresno State is a university that greatly believes in diversity and diverse causes,” said Renee Delport, special events and projects coordinator of the university’s Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning. “We felt like this was a cause we could really embrace, an opportunity to embrace our commitment to diversity, and doing something really good for people of all ethnicities.”

Garza, who has been named coach of the year at three separate schools throughout the Valley, earned his degree in natural science and Chicano studies at Fresno State in 1997. Completing his teaching credential from the Kremen School of Education in 1998, he was later recognized by the Kremen chapter of the Fresno State Alumni Association for outstanding academic performance and contributions and passion for education in 2014.

“Every year, he has a motto for his football team,” Giuffrida said, “and this year his motto was ‘stand for more.’ He grows these boys into men. He teaches them not just about coaching and support, but having a purpose, serving with a purpose and being leaders on their campuses.”

When Garza started his campaign back in June, his initial goal was to have 1,000 people sign up for the registry — a goal that has already been exceeded by 1,100 signatures.

Drives have sprung up throughout not only the Central Valley, but up and down California and in other states like New Mexico and Connecticut.

For example, Liberty High School in Bakersfield, Central High’s opponent last week, hosted a blood and marrow registry drive Friday in honor of Garza.

Delport is working with the Fresno State Student Health Center to have a permanent location for students to sign up for the registry beyond the three-day drive.

“Most of us would never know about this unless there was someone that we love that was involved, or close friend or family member that was directly impacted,” Delport said. “The fact of the matter, though, is that any of us could be impacted by it any day, and so for us to know that and be able to do that and be proactive, that’s just so exciting.”

The marrow registry process takes approximately 10 minutes of filling out paperwork and taking a self-administered cheek swab. The likelihood of being selected as a donor is small, with one in 500 people selected as a match. If selected as a match, there are two possible methods for donation: donating blood platelets, which occurs 75 percent of the time, or a small outpatient procedure in which marrow is extracted from the hip. Both can be done at no cost to donors if they are between the ages of 18 and 44.

“It’s not just a two-day drive or a three-day drive in honor of one of our alumni,” Delport said, “but it’s something that we can institutionalize in educating our students throughout the campus community.”

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