Theodore Mitchell is just like your average teenager. He participates in obstacle training known as parkour, taught himself to play guitar and piano, and he’s organizing a bone marrow drive in an effort to save the lives of others.
The 17-year-old Boy Scout is on a mission to achieve his last merit badge, the final obstacle in his path to becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting. With the help of the Gift of Life, a public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry, Mitchell is leading a drive at the Riverdale Presbyterian Church, 4765 Henry Hudson Parkway W., on Dec. 15. The drive runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
But saving lives is nothing new to Mitchell, especially since that’s exactly what happened to him when his parents adopted him, saving him from a Ukrainian orphanage.
“They saved my life,” Mitchell said. “And at my age, I try to help people. Since they did it for me, I can do it for someone else.”
But his desire to help people doesn’t stop at the drive. He’s also a certified lifeguard with a goal to someday become a paramedic or firefighter. Over the five years he’s been a Scout, Mitchell already has managed to acquire some of those emergency skills.
“I just thought it would be really good for him,” said Phillip Mitchell, Theodore’s father. “They have a lot of good things they teach, and a lot of good lessons.”
For this mission, Mitchell rounded up Troop 240 to help. As one of the oldest members of the group, he already has assumed a leadership role over the other Scouts. And as far as this bone marrow drive goes, it serves as both a challenge and a reward.
“It’s a good thing to know that kids look up to you and you could help them,” Mitchell said. “And hopefully that you can set a good example. Leadership, it’s very important.”
Mitchell’s fellow Scouts won’t be the only ones helping at the drive, but they’re bringing friends, too. In fact, the goal is to have at least 100 people show up to share their saliva for the greater good (and join the registry). He also wants people to learn why such a drive is important in the first place.
Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer in the United States, who may require bone marrow. DNA is collected from would-be donors through cheek swabs, and if they match someone in need, they are given a chance to donate stem cells or bone marrow, whichever is needed.
During such a procedure, the Florida-based Gift of Life covers all the donor’s expenses, from the hotel to transportation to the hospital.
And for those worried that they may need those stem cells and bone marrow for themselves in the future?
“You get everything back that you’ve donated,” said Lindsay Katz, the group’s community engagement coordinator. “Your body replenishes everything that it’s lost.”
The process of retrieving stem cells is a lot like having an intravenous tube hooked up to both arms. The tube takes blood from the body and passes it through a machine, which removes the stem cells before returning the blood back to the donor through their other arm.
Bone marrow extraction is a little trickier. A needle is required, but the worst anyone can expect afterward is a sore bum, Katz said. That temporary discomfort, however, can really save a life from one of the three main types of blood cancer — leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
“We don’t need more money for research or a cure because the cure is inside of people,” Katz said. “And there are so many people looking for matches.”
The drive is open to the public, and free. All that’s required is for workers to collect a little bit of information, and then have potential donors say “ahh” to get their cheeks swabbed.
The bone marrow drive could save lives, but it also will help Mitchell achieve his goal of finally becoming an Eagle Scout. He’s grateful to be able to marry both these accomplishments into a single event.
“This is the holiday of giving, and this is a perfect opportunity to give life to someone,” Mitchell said. “You can help people spend time with their families so they can enjoy their families, too. You can give someone a second chance at life.”