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Two Pacific Lutheran University football players are bone marrow matches for people in need

Erik Bainter and Jai Alapai both matched with other people who are in need of bone marrow transplants.

TACOMA, Wash. — Pacific Lutheran University will hold its graduation ceremony this Saturday. One of the graduates is quarterback Erik Bainter.

Bainter majored in kinesiology and will apply for medical school. But he's already saved a life - and he's not alone.

At Bothell High School, Bainter was the Cougars team captain and MVP before heading to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). At PLU he was the starting quarterback his junior and senior seasons. In 2022 he led the Lutes to their best record in nearly a decade. 

But Bainter said it's not just about wins with head coach Brant McAdams. 

"Brant always says it's about being more than just a football player, they are preparing us to be better people, better grown men in life," said Bainter. 

So, when the Lutes were asked to participate in the Be The Match Registry through the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, the Lutes answered the call.

"All it is a cheek swab, and you put in your email and that's all it takes," said Bainter.

A total of 355 PLU students signed up to be donors, including Bainter. 

"I would think and hope that everyone who had this opportunity would do it," said Bainter.

Less than 1% of the people who register are perfect matches.

The odds are not good, but during his senior season, Bainter found out he was a match.

"You have the opportunity to not only affect one person's life but affect all the people that they know and save their life," said Bainter.

In March, Bainter donated more than 450 million stem cells for a bone marrow transplant that would give someone a second chance at life.

His teammate, Jai Alapai, also signed up. 

"If my dad was someone that had leukemia and let's say the best match was a student at a college and they said, oh, I'm busy, I can't right now and that's your dad's only chance, that's how I thought about it. This could be their only chance to have their dad survive, I just thought it as giving someone another opportunity.

"I heard the odds are you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a match for someone and being a perfect match," said Alapai. 

So, what are the odds of two players from the same team being perfect matches? Astronomical. 

But Alapai also learned he was a perfect match to help a man batteling leukemia. Last week he had a 6.5-hour procedure to donate stem cells. 

"I'd say the last hour was a little uncomfortable, not really pain, just uncomfortable, but you got to think the guy you are donating to is going through a lot worse and that kept me pushing through," said Alapai. 

"I think it's just what you're supposed to do, I'm a firm believer, if you do good things, good things will happen to you," said Bainter.

The PLU football and baseball teams are not the only college teams to participate in the Be The Match registry. Andy Talley was a head college football coach for 32 seasons at Villanova and won more than 250 games. He started the initiative in 2008 and each spring football teams across the country host registry drives. More than 165 programs have participated, accounting for over 159,000 donors and resulting in over 880 transplants.

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