Graduate finds donor for transplant

Jonathan Greenberg, Cynic Correspondent

Most college students don’t think about the possibility of having a life threatening disease while attending classes or hanging with friends.

2011 graduate Sarah Anders was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia in September 2015.

“Getting diagnosed was difficult and terrifying for me, no one expects it to happen to you when you are still young,” Anders said.

This rare condition can develop at any age and leaves patient feeling fatigued with increased chance of infection and uncontrolled bleeding according to Mayo Clinic.

“Aplastic Anemia is a rare bone marrow failure disease in which your body stops making things like red and white blood cells and platelets, which are the things that make blood clots,” Anders said.

But in Spring of 2016 after a year of failed immunotherapy in Maryland, Anders got a match with 25-year-old Brett Augenstein.

“I was lucky that Brett was a perfect match, but many other people with this disease can’t find one,” Anders said.

Though the waitlist for blood transplants is not long, Anders said, the donor registry is also small so finding a match is difficult.

Gift of Life, the nonprofit organization that connected Anders to Augenstein, “is trying to change that by expanding the registry,” she said.

Augenstein for example, was swabbed on his Birthright trip and “once I got the call that I was a match for someone, I didn’t really think about it, I knew I had to help,” he said.

Donors can register by requesting a swab kit from Gift of Life and filling out health history questions, according to the Gift of Life website.

For Anders, the symptoms of the disease and two years of treatment meant she had to step away from the things she loved, she said.

One thing she really loved was the UVM Lawrence Debate Union, where she met and befriended current graduate Rachael Fabian.

“I knew something serious was up when Sarah was incredibly insistent on meeting with me,” Fabian said.

Fabian is currently working on her Ph.D. at University of California Santa Barbara.

“I was terrified, it’s terrible knowing you could lose someone who you call a friend so suddenly,” she said.

Throughout Ander’s treatment, Fabian did her best to keep the enjoyable moments present in her life.

“I made every bad joke that came into my head to try and lighten the mood,” she said.

Jess Bullock, UVM ‘12 said that although seeing her friend deal with something so difficult, she always knew Anders was a fighter.

“If it had been me in her position I probably would have been horrible to deal with, but Sarah never seemed to change even when she was sick,” Fabian reported.

After the successful transplant, Anders was able to return to her studies and the things she loved.

“When she finally came back to UVM to pursue her graduate degree she came in with a bang,” Bullock said. “She wanted to get right back into the swing of things.”

Following her passion for debate, Anders joined SPEAK Vermont, a group that teaches prisoners debate and speech skills, that was founded by Bullock.

Despite her struggle with Aplastic Anemia, Anders still relates to the everyday stress of being a college student, she said.

“Life is inevitably challenging,” she said. “So resilience is to look at the bigger picture and know that you can meet those challenges.”