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When 322 people signed up to be part of the National Marrow Donor Program’s registry at the N.C. Whirligig Festival last November in Wilson, Charlie Bedgood was ecstatic.
The Wilson native had put together the registration drive through the Greater Wilson Rotary Club, of which he is a founding member, along with a similar drive at the MumFest in New Bern last fall. But several months later, Bedgood is still working at putting together marrow donor drives.
An upcoming drive is planned for Wilson Youth United’s The SPOT at a yet-to-be-determined date. Bedgood has also reached out to officials at Barton College and Wilson Community College in hopes of holding registration drives on those campuses.
Along with the Rotary clubs in Mount Olive and Goldsboro, Bedgood helped put together drives on the University of Mount Olive and Wayne Community College campuses in March. Along with the drives in New Bern and Wilson last fall, Bedgood and the Rotary Club have helped add 743 people to the national donor list.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“At first, I had these great expectations of hundreds and hundreds of people until I saw what it literally took,” Bedgood said. “Before we brought in the idea of festivals and big gatherings, they’d been doing 13, 20, 22 (registrations). So I had never been to a drive and not knowing what to expect, I had these great expectations.”
Bedgood noted that another recent drive in Wilson was sponsored by the Zeta Phi Beta national sorority, but “I can’t take credit for that as being one of mine, because it wasn’t.”
But Bedgood is happy, if not satisfied, with helping to add 743 names to the national donor registry.
“I’m extremely happy at 743,” he said. “If I knew I could get 743 every year, I would be happy because the more we get, the closer we are to finding a match. I really thought in the back of my mind that we’d have a thousand by now — until I started. Then when I started and saw how long it took and the process of it. It’s not long and it’s not hard but, I mean, you can’t do but so many in an hour.”
Furthermore, of the 743 names added to the donor registry, the real number is how many donors could come from that.
“I feel good but the most important number is this one! You’ve got to have that donor!” Bedgood said, pointing to a certificate he proudly displays in his home.
That came from 2002 when he was a marrow donor for a man in Michigan.
“It was so satisfying to be a donor,” he said. “And not only was I a donor and it was out of my hands, but my recipient lives and he lives a full life. I don’t know how to describe that feeling but it’s a great feeling and I want to share that feeling. I want somebody else to know.”
The need for marrow donors is felt everywhere, even in Wilson.
Betsie Letterle, the representative for North Carolina Be The Match, the National Marrow Donor Program’s outreach arm, said, “Currently there are patients within the Wilson community looking for their donor so they can make their transplants possible.”
There were 6,100 transplants in 2017, per information provided by Be The Match. Because marrow donation is tied to race, Letterle said that there is still a great need for African-American donors, who comprise about 4 percent of the Be The Match registry.
Be The Match lists the likelihood of an African-American patient finding a fully matched available donor at just 23 percent, compared to 77 percent for white patients or even 46 percent for Hispanic patients.
“We really need to grow diversity in the registry,” Letterle said.
While registration drives will continue to happen at public gatherings, Letterle said that the National Marrow Donor Program will go to “100-percent online registration” by July 1, making it even easier for potential donors to join and possibly help save someone’s life, as Bedgood did.
“People working with Charlie and people like Charlie are really what drives the success because they are passionate, committed and want to share their stories because they want to inspire others,” Letterle said.