The perfect match

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USCB GOLF TEAM MEMBERS GIVE BACK THROUGH BONE MARROW TRANSPLANTS

The odds of being deemed a match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant are slim, and the chances of it happening to two student-athletes on the same small college campus are even less likely.

But lightning has struck twice at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.

USCB women’s golf senior Lina Sekerkova has been identified as a match for a woman in need of a bone marrow transplant and is scheduled to donate this month — the second USCB student-athlete to do so in less than a year. 

Potential donors join the registry at donor drives or online at BeTheMatch.org by answering a series of questions and providing a swab of cheek cells. Usually, only one in 540 registered donors eventually ends up making a donation to a patient suffering from a blood-based cancer.

“This is an amazing anomaly,” said Ashley Collier, the regional Be The Match representative for the southeast United States. “In my experience, you might get a donor every seventh or eighth event where the campus population is 20,000 or more. We’ve gotten two student-athlete donors from a school one-tenth that size. The easiest way to put it: Amazing.” 

Be The Match gained prominence at USCB last year when Sand Shark baseball pitcher Jason Boulais was selected as a bone marrow donor in the midst of his senior season. The story of his selfless decision to go through with the transplant during his final campaign earned national recognition. 

Sekerkova’s link to Be The Match predates Boulais’ story, though. She registered at a health fair during her freshman year at USCB, somewhat reluctantly as she recalls.

“I really didn’t want to sign up. I didn’t really know what was going on,” Sekerkova said. “I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just sign up. The odds that they’ll pick me are really small.’ ”

When the call came three years later, she had changed her tune, saying she is excited for the opportunity. The patient for whom she is a match is about the same age as Sekerkova’s mother, and two of Sekerkova’s grandparents died of cancer, so the issue hits close to home.

Sekerkova was born in Austria before moving to Slovakia at age 5. She moved to Florida at age 19 to attend the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy and was recruited to USCB by former coach Lindy LaBauve. The highlight of her career thus far came at last year’s NAIA National Championship, where she carded four rounds in the 70s and tied for seventh place to earn All-Tournament Team honors.

Like Boulais last spring, Sekerkova’s decision to donate could impact her final season of collegiate competition. If her procedure goes through as scheduled, she will miss at least one round of qualifying and potentially one or more of the Sand Sharks’ seven scheduled spring events. 

“I always get more excited with a student-athlete who is willing to sacrifice so that someone they don’t know will be granted more time to live their life and create their memories,” Collier said.

Sekerkova doesn’t view it as much of a sacrifice at all. For starters, she is scheduled for the less-invasive stem cell donation, a non-surgical procedure that typically involves a quicker recovery. Additionally, donors are reimbursed for their travel costs and all their medical costs are covered by Be The Match or the patient’s medical insurance.

“They’re taking great care of me,” Sekerkova said. “All I’m doing is doing someone a favor, giving some of my cells to save someone’s life.” 

USCB coach Alexis Bennett said she won’t worry too much about any time Sekerkova might miss until the process is complete, recognizing the timeline for her donation could change. Bennett said she reserves the right to keep Sekerkova in the starting lineup even if she misses qualifying and will make that decision based on a number of other factors. 

“If she plays well and is in a position to travel and is feeling up to it, her teammates are going to support my decision. Likewise, if she doesn’t play well and her primary focus is saving a life, that’s not a bad scenario either,” Bennett said. “I know she has been working hard and her game is in a good place, so I hope to have that problem. When the time comes, I think we’ll know what’s right.”