Yes, Your Spit Could Help Save a Life

You've heard of fund drives, food drives, and clothing drives, but what about spit drives?

The concept is the personal cause of 19-year-old Sheldon Mba, who has partnered with a couple of nonprofits to encourage adults between the ages of 18 to 24 to become bone marrow donors. Diagnosed with a rare blood disease, Mba is trying to spread the word—through a catchy campaign dubbed "Give a Spit"—that  joining the national registry is as simple getting your cheek swabbed. The hope is that the campaign will save lives, including Mba's.

In May 2012, the North Carolina Central University college sophomore was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a bone disorder that causes marrow to stop producing red blood cells, and Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria (PNH), a life-threatening disease that destroys red blood cells. Aplastic anemia is rare, according to the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation, with less than 800 cases diagnosed each year. A bone marrow transplant is the only cure.

“It’s great that I might find a match for myself, but there’s someone who may need it more than me, ” Mba tells Yahoo! Shine of the campaign.

Mba first looked to his family to find a bone marrow match, but had no luck. And since he's African American, his chances of finding a match with a complete stranger are even slimmer. Minorities make up less than 30 percent of the national bone marrow registry, which means that African Americans have just a 66-percent chance of finding a match, compared to a 93-percent chance for Caucasians. “You are most likely going to match someone of your race and ethnicity,” Betsie Letterle, account executive for nonprofit Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, tells Yahoo Shine. 

In addition to Be the Match, Mba is also working with, a non-profit focused on mobilizing young people to create social change. Since age matters when it comes to bone marrow donation (research shows that cells from younger donors lead to better long-term survival for patients), Mba has focused on enlisting more young adults by hosting “swab events" not just on his own college campus, but campuses around the country. “By sharing his story he is able to engage people on a whole different level,” says Letterle, who has been working with Mba for the past 18 months. The pair recently traveled to the historically black Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, to raise awareness and sign up donors.

The campaign is working. Since its September launch, the Give A Spit campaign has registered over 1,000 people as bone marrow donors and, according to Colleen Wormsley, marketing associate for, more than 9,000 people have signed up to host events through December 19. The most recent event, held this month in New York City at the New York University Stern School of Business, registered a majority of the 633-member freshman class. Says Mba, “It makes me feel overjoyed that someone out there might have a match in New York, and that could save their life.”