Gamecock Nurses Step Up to Seek Bone Marrow Donor for One of Their Own


Gina Rittenberg. (courtesy)

While undergoing routine blood work last August, Gina Rittenberg, daughter of Jacksonville State University alumna Joan Alexander McDonald (class of ’73), received some devastating news. She had Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a bone marrow cancer similar to leukemia in which the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells. Her single hope for a cure: a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor. 

Like the majority of patients with blood cancer, no one in Rittenberg’s family has been identified as a match. For now, Rittenberg, a registered nurse, can only wait while she continues to receive chemotherapy in Huntsville. 

This is where Jacksonville State University, the Jacksonville Association of Nursing Students and the Nurses Christian Fellowship come in. In coordination with the Be the Match bone marrow registry, the groups will join together to host bone marrow donor testing centers for one of their own on the JSU campus next week in the hope of finding a match for Rittenberg. 

The testing centers, which are open to the community, will operate on Monday, March 7 and Friday, March 11. On March 7, testing will be available from 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Theron Montgomery Building. On March 11, prospective donors can be tested from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Room 200 of Wallace Hall. 

Prospective donors should meet certain criteria in order to submit samples for testing. Prospective donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44 and should not have HIV or hepatitis, heart disease, chronic lung disease, cancer, insulin-dependent diabetes or diabetes-related health problems, blood clotting or bleeding diseases, autoimmune or neurological disorders or current sleep apnea. Those who have recently had back surgery, who have severe or ongoing back problems, who have been an organ or bone marrow transplant recipient or who are significantly obese are also ineligible to donate. 

Paperwork and a cheek swab are all that is required at the testing centers. 

To help alleviate the fear that could keep some prospective donors away from the testing center, Be the Match seeks to dispel some of the myths about bone marrow donation. For instance, not all donations involve surgery. Most are done without surgery, using a procedure called peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. Marrow donation, the second way to donate, does require surgery; however, both procedures are typically done on an outpatient basis, according to Be the Match. While many believe that donation is painful and requires a long recovery period, Be the Match said the side effects to PBSC donation are typically “uncomfortable and short-lived.” Donors sometimes experience headaches, joint and muscle aches and fatigue caused by the drug that must be taken for five days prior to donation. The donor is typically back to normal within two days. With a surgical marrow donation, the donor is given general or local anesthesia and feels no pain. Post-surgery lower back soreness can last for 1-2 weeks afterward, and the donor is typically back to their normal routine in 2-7 days. 

For more information on the JSU bone marrow donor testing centers, please contact Karen Scroggin at or (256) 557-4314 or Melissa Duckett at or (256) 239-4054. 

To learn more about bone marrow donation, visit