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Ask the Cougar

Miracle Serve

Hayley Harrell, Class of 2012

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“Sacrifice your body!”

It’s a phrase almost every collegiate athlete has heard, especially volleyball players. They routinely dive across hardwood courts with arms outstretched to strike the ball, not cushion their fall. But when the last point is scored, it’s finally time for rest and recovery. Hayley Harrell, however, doesn’t follow this convention.

Last December, the then-junior sacrificed her body off the court, donating bone marrow to a 6-year-old girl living abroad. She had never met the girl, didn’t know her name and didn’t even know in which country or continent she lived. All Harrell knew was that a 6-year-old girl was deathly ill, and the only chance for survival involved receiving a bone marrow transplant.

Without even blinking, Harrell agreed to go under the knife, or, to be more accurate, the drill. In the middle of final exams for the fall semester and less than three weeks after finishing the season, Harrell allowed doctors to remove enough bone marrow to fill a Nalgene water bottle from the holes they drilled into her hip. While the marrow was immediately sent abroad to doctors attending to the young girl, Harrell finished her exams.

The transplant was set in motion back in the spring 2009, during Harrell’s freshman year, when she had the inside of her cheek swabbed as part of a health organization’s drive to recruit potential bone marrow donors. A nurse taking the sample told Harrell that the vast majority of people who have their cheeks swabbed are never contacted. And even if you are, the nurse continued, there’s a good chance you’d be asked to donate blood stem cells rather than bone marrow, which requires a more invasive and painful surgery.

Eighteen months passed. Harrell and her teammates won the regular-season SoCon championship and were preparing to compete in the postseason as the No. 1 ranked team in the conference’s southern division. Out of the blue, Harrell was contacted and reminded about her cheek swab. We need you for more tests, donor coordinators told her. Next thing she knew, Harrell was told she was a perfect match for a 6-year-old girl. She had the chance to save the girl’s life. Harrell was floored.

“She was amazed she had the chance to help someone,” says Jamie Harrell, Hayley’s sister and a sophomore on the College’s women’s tennis team. “She has always had a willingness to help others, even if she’s had to endure some discomfort, or, in the case of donating bone marrow, a lot of discomfort.”

Indeed, Hayley Harrell was bedridden for a few days after having her bone marrow removed, “though she hardly complained,” says hersister.

The Harrell girls have been taught their whole lives about the importance of giving to those in need. For the past few years their family has taken trips to Honduras with their church to provide medical supplies and treatment to the poor. The Hondurans they help have nothing, says Hayley, and are eager to accept many medicines that Americans take for granted but which provide much-appreciated relief, including ibuprofen, nasal spray, eye drops, ear drops and antibiotics. Many Hondurans have told Hayley that she and the other church members are the answers to their prayers.

“We are their miracle,” says Hayley. “It’s a really cool feeling to be someone’s miracle.”