Saving Jennifer Jones Austin

February 2, 2010

Jennifer Jones Austin is a Brooklyn mother of two, an advocate for disenfranchised children and their families, and a Senior Vice President at United Way of New York City. A lawyer and lifelong ambassador for families in her community, Jennifer’s efforts have benefited thousands of people across New York State and beyond.

Jennifer has always been an advocate for those in need, especially children. And recently, the BMCC community came together to do something special for Jennifer.

Jennifer has been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and is in immediate need of a bone marrow transplant.

In conjunction with New York Blood Center (NYBC), The City University of New York is hosting blood and bone marrow drives at CUNY campuses throughout the five boroughs to help save the lives of patients like Jennifer, who are in need of a bone marrow or cord blood transplant.

BMCC was the first CUNY college to host the blood and bone marrow drive at the Richard Harris Terrace. A press conference was also held at the event, which attracted  nearly 100 blood donors and bone marrow registrants, including BMCC students, staff and faculty.

Members of the BMCC Community Register to ‘Be The Match’
Inside the Richard Harris Terrace, technicians from the New York Blood Center drew blood from the arms of donors, while NYBC representatives from the “Be The Match” National Marrow Donor Program recruited people to take the first step in becoming a bone marrow donor.

At the drive, donors could either donate blood, place their name on the bone marrow registry, or both.

Jennifer Jones Austin does not have a matching donor in her family and is depending on the “Be The Match” Registry—the largest listing of volunteer marrow donors in the world—to find a match. Patients are more likely to find a match from donors who share the same race or ethnicity. Yet, out of the registry of millions, fewer than 10 percent are African Americans. The “Be The Match” Registry drive to help Jennifer is aimed at addressing that situation.

Bone marrow registration only involves completing a health history form, including questions about ethnicity, and providing a swab of cheek cells.

By encouraging members of the CUNY community to donate, not only can a possible match be found for Jennifer, but donating blood or signing up for the “Be The Match” Registry can help save someone else’s life.

Donating blood is “a civic responsibility”
BMCC President Antonio Pérez was the emcee at the CUNY/New York Blood Center press conference, held in the lobby just outside Richard Harris Terrace. 

Pérez told the crowd that he donated blood in college with his fraternity, and one of their goals was to raise 800 pints of blood.

“Our students should be aware of what happens around the city,” he said. “That includes being involved in the process of helping other human beings. Donate blood and be involved—be part of this community and part of the city.”

Pérez said donating blood or adding your name to the “Be The Match” Registry is “a civic responsibility.” “Donating blood is easy, safe and painless—it’s also tremendously rewarding,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to save someone’s life.”

Pérez reminded the audience, and the many students standing off to the side of the press conference area, that Jennifer Jones Austin’s own close friends were, unfortunately, not a blood or bone marrow match.  “You can become part of a new circle of friends that can help her,” he said.

Student Ida Djiguimde, a business major, felt compelled to donate blood because she once saw a sick child in a hospital who was in desperate need of blood to survive. “I saw a sign for the blood drive in the BMCC lobby and thought, ‘I should do this,’” she said. “I should help somebody.”

BMCC serves ‘a critical role’ in helping others
During the press conference, donors continued to donate their time—and their blood—to the drive, throughout the day, encouraging their friends and co-workers to donate as well.

Dr. Peter Grant Jordan, Interim Vice Chancellor, Division of Student Affairs for CUNY, also spoke at the press conference, stating that the CUNY community, including BMCC, serve a “critical role” in servicing New York City.“

Blood is the most precious gift anyone can give,” he said, reminding the audience that donating is “neighbor helping neighbor.” According to Dr. Jordan, CUNY is recognized as one of the top five organizations working with the New York Blood Center.

After Dr. Jordan, Dr. Christopher Hillyer, President and Chief Executive Officer, New York Blood Center, spoke at the podium. “We’re trying to help one person, and that one person becomes many people,” he said.

According to Dr. Hillyer, blood and bone marrow donations are extremely important for patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy.

“We look for blood every day,” he said. “The New York Blood Center needs 1,500 units of blood every day to serve the community. When it comes to blood and bone marrow donation, in this case, we’re all one.”

Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Chair of the City Council Health Committee, spoke after Dr. Hillyer, thanking Jennifer Jones Austin for “making this [mission] personal for us,” and for putting a face to a name when it came to donation.

“We must step up,” Arroyo said. “And we hope Jennifer has many more birthdays to come.”

Shawn Austin speaks on behalf of his wife
A match has yet to be found for Jennifer Jones Austin, who wasn’t able to attend the drive, but her husband, Shawn Austin, was grateful to see such a large crowd of supporters for his wife at BMCC.

Shawn came and spoke at BMCC on behalf of Jennifer. The two met while attending Rutgers University and have two children.

Shawn spoke about how busy Jennifer was, attending a special event for her late father and running errands with, and for, their young daughter and son. That is, until Jennifer’s whole life changed in an instant. “She was tired. She thought she just had a virus,” said Shawn. “Turns out, she had leukemia and was in the ICU for ten days.”

Shawn thanked the BMCC family on behalf of his own family. “Thank you for talking about what happened to Jennifer,” he said. “If she were here, you’d see tears from her because of all this wonderful community response.”

He went on to say that unfortunately, when Jennifer learned that neither her brother nor her two sisters would be a possible match for her, the family turned to the “Be The Match” database, and fellow New Yorkers, for help in finding a possible match.

“Since December 5th, we’ve had about 50 blood and bone marrow drives,” said Shawn Austin. “With the help of BMCC, we can sign more people up for the registry, and help Jennifer—who donated blood herself on a regular basis before her diagnosis—and so many others.”


To donate blood, please call:
Toll Free:  1-800-933-2566
For more information about Blood and Bone Marrow Drives on CUNY campuses go to:    

share this story »