Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

April 15, 2013

UVA football player from Bluefield donates stem cells to save a life

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It seems as though some student/athletes will do just about anything to get out of spring drills — even if it means saving a life.

Actually, David Marrs, a rising forth-year student at the University of Virginia, took a page out of his head coach’s personal playbook, and traveled to the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University on March 25, to donate stem cells to an elderly female patient with leukemia in an effort to save her life.

“The process was really easy,” Marrs, a history major at UVA said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate and blessed to live a happy and healthy life. If I have a chance to do anything to help anyone live a better life, I’ll do it.

“I try to encourage as many people as possible to get them involved in the program,” Marrs, 20, said. “My job is to let people know how easy it is. Anybody can register. All they have to do is to take a cheek swab and send it in. It’s amazing.”

Marrs was a star on the Graham High School G-Men football team where he played quarterback, punted and played linebacker. After he graduated in 2010, he enrolled at UVA, and tried out for the football team as a walk-on and made the squad. A pair of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries to the same knee limited his playing time, but he’s still on the team.

“I get cleared to hit in about two weeks,” Marrs said during a telephone interview from the UVA campus. “I’m looking forward to that.”

Marrs was inspired to sign up for the “Be a Match Donor Program” by UVA head football coach Mike London, who became head coach in 2010. “Coach London donated stem cells to save his daughter’s life,” Marrs said. “The likelihood that a parent would be a match for a daughter wasn’t very good, but he turned out to be a perfect match. We run a donor program here at school in honor of coach.”

Marrs has a rare blood type — O negative — and was a selected as a match in the fall of 2012, but a “perfect match” came along, and Marrs wasn’t selected to be a donor. This spring, Marrs was a perfect match for the patient that needed his help, and he was equally proud to participate.

“I get a lot of support from the guys on the team,” Marrs said. “I tell them that it was easy.”

“This is a new way to collect stem cells,” Marrs’ mother, Karen (Shields) Marrs said. David is a son of Rick and Karen Marrs of Bluefield, Va. “The National Marrow Donor Program is facilitated through the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University. David traveled to Wake the last week in March and donated peripheral blood stem cells to this unknown and unrelated cancer patient.

“NMDP uses bone marrow and blood-forming cells from the bloodstream of healthy donors for transportation,” Karen Marrs said. “In the past, blood-forming cells were always taken from the bone marrow. Now, a drug called ‘filgrastim’ can increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream so much that these cells can be collected from the bloodstream of donors and used for transplant.”

“Everyone else down there when I was donating cells was related to the person they were donating to,” David Marrs said. “The whole process down there took about five hours. There was no pain at all.”

Marrs enjoys studying European history during World War II, but has also become interested in Virginia history. “Living in Virginia and being a student here in Charlottesville, there is a lot of history around you,” he said. Marrs said he was not certain of the name of the person he donated his stem cells to help.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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