Marshall Matlock’s life was saved by a stranger.
Four years later, he is now Facebook friends with her. But in late 2009, after two rounds of chemotherapy to treat his acute myelogenous leukemia, all Matlock knew was that his chance for survival depended on finding someone — anyone — whose bone marrow matched his.
Like 70 percent of patients in need of a marrow donor, he had no genetic matches in his family. Luckily, a 19-year-old woman in Europe registered with Be the Match, a Minneapolis-based marrow donor program, and Matlock lived.
As a way to give back, he has founded Swab Squad, a portable, pop-up marrow drive in Oklahoma City. It can be found at Friday night’s H&8th Night Market.
“We are designed to easily integrate into events around the city and state,” Matlock said. “We provide an approachable place to talk about the need for marrow donors, dispel myths around the transplant process and recruit new donors for Be the Match.”
Staffed by Matlock and his friends and family, the nonprofit’s setup consists of lawn chairs and a synthetic grass rug, making visitors feel more like they’re tailgating than potentially saving a life. Registering with Be the Match is as simple as Swab Squad is approachable. There is a short health screening, a few-page application and then four 10-second cheek swabs.
“People also don’t realize how easy it is to join,” said Matlock. “Once they do, they’re usually in.”
While worldwide marrow registries now contain millions of members, six out of 10 patients never find a match.
“There is a real need people aren’t aware of,” he said, “and there are a lot of misconceptions we want to eliminate. People hear ‘bone marrow’ and think someone’s going to drill through their spine.”
Eighty-five percent of transplants are performed through donated blood stem cells via an automated machine, much like donating blood. The remaining 15 percent of donations are received the traditional way — with a needle and general anesthesia, so there is little to no associated pain.
“We’ll be at every H&8th, held the last Friday of each month, from now on. Unless they get rained out, we’re there,” said Matlock, noting he is looking to be involved with more events around the city and state. “That’s the goal.”
For more information, visit swabsquad.org.