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San Diego woman volunteers to transport life-saving stem cells, bone marrow to patients around US

Posted at 7:39 AM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 10:39:16-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- When a patient is waiting for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, time is of the essence.

Be The Match, a nonprofit donor-patient network, has a legion of volunteer couriers who hand carry those donations. One of them is Brenda Patrick of La Mesa, who prepares a specially designed cooler before every trip.

“I just check it to make sure it looks intact,” Patrick said.

Patrick also takes out custom-fitted ice packs from the freezer. They are used to keep stem cell donations cold but are not necessary to transport bone marrow.

She started as a courier for Be The Match in October 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Her simple reasoning for doing so: “Well, they needed people. I had just retired; I'm a retired nurse practitioner and it was kind of like right up my alley.”

However, couriers don't need a background in health care. They just need to care.

“I think the most important requirement for being a courier is to have respect for what you're doing,” said Patrick, “you also have to be able to think on your feet.”

That's because when it comes to travel, things often don't go as planned.

“I was rushing for my plane; the plane was going to leave, and I got to TSA and they said, ‘You don't have the correct paperwork,’” Patrick explained.

That situation happened in New York, and Patrick did in fact have the proper paperwork, but the confusion cost her half a day.

“I had to fly to another airport and then get a car and drive it to where I was going just because of the mix-up,” said Patrick.

Rut Kessel, the courier program supervisor for Be The Match, said that’s why hand carrying the donations is so important because couriers guard the items and facilitate delivery.

But what happens if a courier can’t make it in 24 hours?

“So, 48 hours is our window, but 24 is what we always strive for, and we just move heaven and earth,” said Kessel. “We've had couriers in helicopters, we've had couriers in cop cars, whatever it takes is what we do to get it from A to B.”

The first couriers were paid employees. Then, in 2004, Be The Match launched the volunteer program because the number of transplants started booming.

Kessel said out of more than 750 couriers, 60 to 75 percent are volunteers ages 21 to 80, from all walks of life.

“There's no price to put on them, and their dedication and passion is what makes this work,” said Kessel.

Patrick said she has made about 20 trips so far, but it's the first one she'll never forget.

“I was delivering to a children's hospital, and I was really nervous about the process and the procedure and the paperwork and getting everything right,” she recalled with emotion in her voice, “and then I delivered the product and as I came out, and it still affects me, I delivered to a child.”

Patrick said that realization made it clear her role was about more than just making a delivery.

“That kid is going to get a transplant,” she said.

The trips are paid for by donations as well as patient insurance. Kessel said they may need more couriers in certain states after they assess later this year.

To find out more about being a courier, making a monetary donation or becoming a stem cell or bone marrow donor, just go to