Four a good cause

Project 44 held their third annual 4/4 event on April 4. Photo by Grace Hensley. 


The NMDP bone marrow and stem cell donor registry is now over 130 people longer due to the third annual Project 44 4/4 event held on April 4. Project 44 is a non-profit organization created to encourage bone marrow donation in honor of the late Butler basketball alumnus Andrew Smith. 

Smith, who wore number 44, was a critical member of Butler’s two-time NCAA Finals basketball team. When he died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia, two types of blood cancer, in 2016 at the age of 25, his wife, Samantha Smith-Michael, and Butler alumna Krissi Edgington founded Project 44 at Butler in his honor. It consists of an off-campus board of directors and an on-campus executive board. 

On the day of this year’s event, four tables around campus were set up with swab kits on site so students, faculty and staff could join the donor registry. After swabbing the inside of a volunteer’s cheek, a member of Project 44 packaged the swabs to send to the NMDP labs. Within four to six weeks, the volunteer will receive an email to let them know if their type of human leukocyte antigen matches someone in need. 

According to the American Cancer Society, stem cells are responsible for creating red and white blood cells and are found in bone marrow and blood. Bone marrow and stem cell transplants help replenish bone marrow and stem cells that are destroyed by blood cancers, blood diseases, chemotherapy and radiation. 

Kailyn Mitchell, a sophomore business major and a photographer for Project 44, said that when you join the registry, there is a 10% chance that the recipient needs bone marrow and a 90% chance that the recipient needs stem cells. For the stem cell donation, the donor will undergo a peripheral blood stem cell donation, where blood is drawn and the stem cells are extracted from the blood. For bone marrow donation, it is taken from the pelvic bone with a needle. 

“With bone marrow donation, it is a surgical procedure,” Mitchell said. “With the bone marrow registry that we’re currently with, NMDP, everything would be covered. You would be able to bring a person with you. Anywhere you have to travel, whether it’s by car or plane, and a hotel would be covered.” 

Each table was run by student members of Project 44, a representative from NMDP and members from other Butler clubs and organizations. This is the second year that the 4/4 event has collaborated with other clubs. The student leaders were asked to recruit members from their respective organizations to volunteer at the event. 

The tables were located in the Health and Recreation Complex, Dugan Hall, Gallahue Hall and outside of Starbucks. Project 44 held a raffle for four Project 44 basketball jerseys. In addition to the swab kits, each table catered food from a variety of nearby vendors. 

Gavin Arkinstall, a junior marketing and finance double major and on-campus internal outreach director for Project 44, said the goal of the 4/4 event was to get as many people to register as possible. Project 44’s mission is to save 44 lives through bone marrow donation, which requires 18,920 people to register because one in 430 people registered are matches. 

The first 4/4 event was held in 2022, although the second one in 2023 was the first time they recruited a substantial number of people to register, swabbing over 170 people. 

“There’s a lot of people, especially children, but older adults as well, that have cancer or a blood cancer, where their life span is slowly decreasing,” Arkinstall said. “Sometimes, there’s really no way to cure it unless they get a bone marrow transplant.” 

One vendor, Indy Tacos, has a personal connection to the cause. The owner, Francisco Campos, recently passed away from leukemia, a type of blood cancer that bone marrow can help cure. Campos’ sister took over the restaurant and provided the event with discounted food to support the cause. 

Will Jacob, a junior biology major and on-campus vice president of Project 44, said there were a lot of people involved in the event that have experience with the cause, including himself. 

“I have family and loved ones waiting for transplants,” Jacob said. “I’ve donated [bone marrow] before, and I’m donating again in the summer. For me, there’s a personal connection. It’s something I’m pretty passionate about.” 

The on-campus, student-led section of Project 44 dissipated in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Jacob and Lauren Houldsworth, the on-campus president, revived the organization in the 2021-22 school year. The first event members held after the pandemic was the first annual Tip Off event, which is a 3 v. 3 basketball tournament. 

While the 4/4 event is the biggest registration event of the year, Project 44 hosts many other events. 

“Our big fall event is the 3 v. 3 basketball tournament,” Jacob said. “We are sponsors for the Bulldog Jog, which is on April 20, and then we have a [game] night with the men’s basketball team. We’re currently partnered with the NCAA National Invitation Tournament. We’ve gone on the court for all of those games. We also partner with all of the Butler athletic teams.” 

When Arkinstall steps up as president next school year, he said he hopes to continue the 4/4 event and Project 44’s partnerships with other organizations on campus. He wants to continue the events with the Butler athletic teams, and hopes to continue to add to the bone marrow and stem cell donor registry.