Yale Med Students Fight to Save Classmate

Natasha Collins needs a bone marrow donation and donors are slim

A group of Yale Medical School students will some day save lives on a regular basis, but for now, they're hoping to make a difference in the life of one particular patient.

“She's 26-years-old and she's battling leukemia for the second time," said first-year medical student, Molly Weiner.

“She's really teaching us, I think, a lot about the patient side of disease and also strength, said first-year medical student, Kavita Radnakrishnan.

The young patient who is having such an impact on all of these medical students, is a medical student herself: Natasha Collins.

“I've always said I wanted to be a doctor," Collins said.

She’s not sure what kind of doctor, maybe a psychiatrist or pediatrician. She will not have to make that decision for a couple a years. But whether or not she’ll be here in a couple years is not clear.

Shortly after graduating from Cornell University, Natasha was accepted into Yale Medical School. But she had to postpone her education after she became ill.

“I thought I just had the flu or pneumonia. That's what it felt like, just really tired and achy,” Collins said.  “Yeah, I found out I had leukemia and the world changed on a dime."

The fall 2008 semester was Natasha’s first at Yale. But by February, her leukemia was back. Like the first time, she fought it again, even smiling through chemo.

"She's been an absolute trooper. She's managed to keep up to date with her school work," said her friend, Weiner.

But to continue, Natasha needs one thing to save her life.

"I have to have a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible," she said.

Here's the problem: Natasha is mixed race and in a global registry of 12 million people, there's not one match. The likely reason is because there are so few minorities who register to become bone marrow donors.

"In many ways there's nothing we can do for her but find her a bone marrow donor and to have that feeling of helplessness, I think that's difficult," said classmate and friend, Xuejing Chen.

But it's not stopping her classmates and friends from trying. They have launched a drive for donors that's gone national. They're asking everyone, especially minorities, to come forward and register for the bone marrow registry.

"We're hoping the state of Connecticut can help us in building the registry," said Weiner.

It might make the difference in saving Natasha's life and to give her the chance to save others lives, as the doctor she's always dreamed of becoming.

"I think I'll definitely be a more understanding doctor.  Understanding of side effects drugs have and not disregarding that and just understanding sickness as a whole person, not just a patient," said Collins

Until Monday, May 4, anyone can register for free by going to this website and using the code APAMSA509.   

Also, people can find a local drive in their area by visiting the National Bone Marrow Donor Program Web site

Additional ways you can help:

Share Natasha's story with your family and friends.

Watch the YouTube video, visit this Facebook group or e-mail the organizers.

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