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CSU, Chico News

Student’s Spirit of Giving Saves a Life

Date: 09-26-2013

Joe Wills
Public Affairs

It took only a few seconds, and then she rushed off to class. But two years ago, Hilary Ingram’s giving spirit ended up saving a life and bringing her fame she never could have expected.

The California State University, Chico 2012 graduate currently lives in Roseville and is a program director at the Firefighters Burn Institute in Sacramento. In November of her senior year, Hilary participated with her Alpha Delta Pi sorority sisters in a campus blood drive. While she was donating blood, she saw a sign asking people to have their cheeks swabbed for saliva to see if they matched someone needing a bone marrow transplant.

“I was completely naïve about bone marrow and the need for a registry,” Hilary said, “but I wanted to do it, and then ran to class.”

Two months later, Hilary got a phone call – she was a potential match. “I was excited and very surprised, because I’d heard the chances of getting a call were slim and none. Yet it happened.”

She learned one of her sorority sisters had once been a potential match, but it didn’t work out. “I found out the phone call was only the first step,” she said.

In the coming weeks, she filled out forms, had blood drawn, then traveled with her mom to Stanford Hospital for a physical. After the exam, a doctor came in to speak with Hilary and her mom. She was a match for a 5-year-old girl with preleukemia, the doctor said, and if she donated bone marrow, she would save the girl’s life.

“I didn’t think twice, I knew I wanted to do it,” she said.

What Hilary couldn’t know was that, 1,400 miles away in Texas, a little girl named Stevye had previously had potential bone marrow donors identified and asked to donate. But until Hilary, no one had decided to have the procedure needed to help Stevye live.

In two weeks, at the beginning of the spring 2012 semester, Hilary returned to Stanford for surgery. While under general anesthetic for an hour, she had liquid marrow withdrawn from her pelvic bone. It was painful, and she stayed in the hospital overnight, but was back in class on Monday.

Then came the waiting. Hilary was not yet allowed to know the name of her bone marrow recipient or what would happen next for her. She sent a teddy bear to a little girl she was hoping and praying for, wherever she was. In the coming months, Hilary got word that the 5-year-old was doing OK, that her body had not rejected Hilary’s bone marrow, but she still couldn’t know any details.

While she waited to hear, Hilary got more involved in bone marrow registry – she led Alpha Delta Pi in May 2012 to host an event where 144 people on campus had their cheeks swabbed. Later that month, Hilary graduated from Chico State and moved back to Sacramento to begin her postgraduate life.

One year later, she got a call from DoSomething.org, the large nonprofit that started the Give a Spit About Cancer campaign advocating cheek swabs for bone marrow registry. They wanted her to speak at their 20th anniversary gala in New York. Hilary got multiple ovations as she told the crowd her story, but then there was a surprise – a big screen on stage showed a healthy Stevye with her family thanking Hilary. While the crowd cheered, Hilary also heard she was being flown to Texas to finally meet the girl whose life she saved.

Last month, Hilary and a film crew from DoSomething.org arrived in Denton, Texas. Stevye was waiting with a bouquet of flowers and a big hug for Hilary. They went to Chuck E. Cheese and other places, and Hilary and Stevye got to know each other.

“She was adorable, and the best part was to know that she’s fine – an energetic, healthy little girl,” Hilary said. “I loved seeing how healthy she is now.”

Last week, on the one-year anniversary of Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts' successful bone marrow transplant, Glamour magazine published a story lauding Hilary as a hero and posted DoSomething.org’s video about her trip to Texas http://www.glamour.com/inspired/blogs/the-conversation/2013/09/happy-one-year-transplant-birt.html.

“I never thought any of this would happen,” Hilary said. “I honestly feel lucky to be a potential match, to give bone marrow, to help get the word out. Stevye is a little fighter – she’s the real hero.”