MOVE helps one alum save a life six years later

September 25, 2023
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

Maggie McKeon ’19 said the College’s community service organization originally made her want to become a student at Saint Michael’s College, so she joined as soon as she could during her first year on campus.

But, McKeon said she could never have predicted the organization MOVE, which stands for Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts, would plant a seed that six years later would help her save a life.

Maggie McKeon volunteering at a MOVE blood drive at Saint Michael’s College. (Courtesy photo)

“I knew from the get-go I wanted to be involved,” McKeon said.

She attended events like First-Year Apple Picking and the Fiz Blood Drive during her first year. By her second year, she was coordinating those events for others as a core team leader for MOVE. She participated in Correctional Volleyball and Cook N Food — where she’d cook for veterans and sit down with them when dinner was served to enjoy the meal and the conversation. She also volunteered as a VITA peer minister, retreat leader and liturgical minister.

It was during the 2017 Fiz Blood Drive event her sophomore year that McKeon – on a whim – signed her name to the Be The Match registry to be a potential bone marrow donor. The nonprofit organization manages a global marrow registry to help treat blood cancers and had registry sign-ups available at the Fiz Blood Drive that year.

“I didn’t put too much thought into it. It was just a no-brainer,” said McKeon. She only needed to give a simple cheek swab to join the marrow registry.

Nothing came of that impulse right away, and as the years ticked by, McKeon almost forgot she had signed up. She graduated from Saint Michael’s College in 2019 with a double-major in Elementary Education and Religious Studies. From there, she moved to Baltimore, earned her Master’s degree, and eventually moved to Bradley Beach, New Jersey, where she now works as an English teacher for 5th and 7th graders.

Then earlier this year, nearly six years after signing up for the Be The Match registry, she got a letter in the mail explaining that she might be a bone marrow match and needed to have follow-up bloodwork to confirm. In May, she received the official word that she was, in fact, the match.

Being the match

The Be The Match organization told McKeon that the recipient of her marrow would be a toddler who was living internationally and who had leukemia. McKeon wasn’t told any other details.

As a teacher, she wrapped up her final classes for the school year and spent her first week of summer break — which happened to be Father’s Day — driving alongside her own father, to Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she would have the surgery. Because McKeon was donating to a child, they planned to take the bone marrow from both of her hips. On June 19, 2023, she had the surgery and her bone marrow was immediately sent internationally to the child, who received it the following day.

Maggie McKeon from her hospital bed after donating bone marrow. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s crazy to think this all happened because I decided to get on the registry at the SMC blood drive,” she wrote on her Facebook page from her hospital bed after the surgery.

The recovery process was painful, especially during the first week. She couldn’t stand for more than 15 minutes and couldn’t go in the water, even though she was a teacher on summer break. But McKeon said it was, “definitely worth doing.”

“It was a really incredible experience that I’m glad I had,” McKeon said. “I hear stories about children with cancer and it breaks my heart. If I could donate bone marrow so that this child has another chance at life, and so this family doesn’t have to go through the heartbreak of losing a child, of course I would do that.”

A lifetime love of giving back

Someday, McKeon hopes to connect with the family who received her bone marrow. She has sent them a message with her contact information through an anonymous portal the organization offers.

Now 26, she said her college experience with MOVE has created a lifetime love of giving back.

Director of MOVE/Associate Director of Campus Ministry for Community Service, Lara Scott, said McKeon’s experience is not singular and is a testament to the type of students Saint Michael’s College attracts who often seek enriching experiences through service.

“It’s amazing how often we hear from our students, or our recent alums, about how transformative — and they use that word — how transformative their experiences are in MOVE,” Scott said. “We become a cornerstone for many students. There is something bigger about the ethos of MOVE. It supersedes any of the people. Those of us who are here as individuals, have the honor to keep that going.”

Last year, MOVE had 206 unique student volunteers who participated in half a dozen special events, which include the Fiz Blood Drive, 19 local programs that run regularly throughout the year, and a service trip program that visits seven locations addressing justice topics. You can read the powerful collection of profiles featuring students, alumni, faculty and staff who MOVE has inspired over the years in the series What Moves You.

“I think it’s great that St. Mikes provides so many opportunities for us to give back to the community,” McKeon said. “For me, service has always been an important part of my life. There were times in high school when, financially, things were tighter. There was a lot of generosity from people in my community that were looking out for my family. I want to pay that forward to other people.”

The annual Fiz Blood Drive is coming up on Friday, Oct. 6., from noon to 5:30 p.m. in the Roy Room in the Dion Student Center to continue the legacy of Mark Fizulich ’97. Sign up here to volunteer at this year’s Fiz Blood Drive. Sign up here to donate blood (enter 05439 zip code and scroll to find Saint Michael’s College).

More upcoming opportunities through MOVE: 

  • Cook N Food Monday, Sept. 25, 5 p.m.
  • Juntos Thursday, September 28, 5:30 p.m.
  • Outdoor Volunteer Efforts (OVE) Friday, Sept. 29, 2 p.m.
  • Senior Citizen Games, Saturday Sept. 30, 2 p.m.

More information about MOVE can be found here.>> 

Students can sign up on MOVE Bulletin Board outside of the office at Alliot 124

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