Howard University Volleyball Player Skips Final Tournament to Make Stem Cell Donation to a Stranger

Jurnee Farrell was on the "Be The Match" registry for two years before she was called to donate her blood stem cell ahead of her team's final conference tournament

Jurnee Farrell
Photo: ABC News

A senior volleyball player at Howard University willingly missed out on playing in her final conference tournament in order to give a stranger the gift of life.

Jurnee Farrell had no hesitations about donating her blood stem cell when she recently received a call that she was a match for a 57-year-old woman with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — even if that meant skipping what could have been the last game of her collegiate volleyball career.

“It was bittersweet, but it was definitely a no-brainer,” Farrell, 21, told Good Morning America. “If somebody gets the opportunity to save someone’s life — whether it be a stranger or a family member — I would hope that it’s a no-brainer for everybody.”

The 5′ 10″ setter-turned-libero first signed up to be a donor with Be The Match when she was a sophomore in college after being encouraged by her coach Shaun Kupferberg, GMA reports.

The nonprofit organization, which had a registration table on Howard’s campus, helps save lives through marrow donation and transplants. It also happened to be a cause that was near and dear to Kupferberg’s heart.

“Growing up, my dad worked at a children’s hospital in Chicago. I grew up in that type of environment and saw what an organ donation or a tissue donation can do for a family,” he told the outlet. “If somebody’s life can be saved by a simple donation, it’s obviously an easy thing to do and we should be helping.”

Jurnee Farrell
Jurnee Farrell. ABC News

Two years after registering to be a donor, Farrell learned she was a match for a complete stranger and could potentially save the woman’s life — news that felt surreal to the student-athlete, who was working to complete her degree in criminal justice.

“It wasn’t registering to me that I would be saving someone’s life,” she recalled to GMA. “I was just like, ‘Okay, I registered for this thing, and I’m going to go through with it.’ It took me a lot of time to realize what I was doing.”

On Nov. 19, Farrell finally underwent the procedure.

Because the recovery process would take seven to 10 days, doctors told her she would be unable to play with her team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, which was scheduled for that weekend.

Still, Farrell had no qualms about it. “I said ‘Yes, of course, I would do it,’ because I was saving somebody’s life … you only get one chance in life, I think, to save somebody else’s, and this was my chance,” she told ABC News.

“They’re on a timeline, I’m not really,” she added to ABC 30. “So I had to sacrifice that. It was okay. It was worth it.”

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Her selfless action was even more special as African-Americans have just a 23 percent chance of finding a matching donor through the registry, according to Be The Match.

“You’re saving someone’s life and it’s super, super easy,” Farrell told GMA. “For you to be in pain for four or five days is nothing compared to someone whose been in pain for months.”

Her coach was also supportive of her decision, despite having her miss out on the important games.

“You’re doing something bigger than volleyball,” Kupferberg told her, per GMA. “If you want to talk about what you contribute to the world in twenty years and you can tell anybody that you had the chance to save someone’s life — that’s a major accomplishment.”

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After sitting out for three games, Farrell is expected to make her valiant return to the court — and just in time, as the Bisons, who won their conference, are set to play Pittsburgh on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“It’s one of those things that everything always works out the way it’s supposed to,” Kupferberg told GMA of Farrell’s second chance. “You want to see her rewarded for making the right decision. Getting to play in the NCAA tournament is a blessing after all of that.”

As she prepares to compete for a national championship, Farrell is urging others to consider giving the gift of life. She also hopes to meet the patient if her transplant is successful, though she won’t know for another year.

“If you get the opportunity to save someone’s life with such an easy process, you shouldn’t hesitate,” she told GMA. “I think it becomes real when you’re donating but that feeling would be elevated even more if I were able to meet this person.”

Those interested in joining the registry to become a donor for Be The Match can do so here.

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