Howard University athlete skips final tournament to make lifesaving donation to a stranger

A senior volleyball player at Howard University was supposed to play in her final conference tournament, but when she learned that another person needed her to save her life, she willingly missed out on what could have been the ultimate game of her college volleyball career.

When she was a sophomore in college, Jurnee Farrell signed up to be a donor with Be The Match, an organization that works to save lives through marrow donation. This was after her coach, Shaun Kupferberg, encouraged the women in his team to sign up through a registration table they had on campus.

Howard University player.
Howard University

After signing up, Jurnee’s cheek was swabbed and she was officially registered with the group as one of their potential donors.

Two years after, the 5′ 10″ setter-turned-libero received a phone call informing her that she was a match for a 57-year-old woman with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The news felt surreal to the athlete.

“It wasn’t registering to me that I would be saving someone’s life,” she recalled. “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.”

Howard university volleyball player donates stem cell.
Howard University

Be The Match explained the consequences of becoming a donor, which involved several months of physicals and blood tests. Jurnee had no problem with all of it, even when it meant skipping the last game of her collegiate volleyball career. Considering that she has played volleyball throughout her four years at Howard University, missing out on the game was sort of a big deal. But it didn’t matter to Jurnee because she knew that her sacrifice was for something far more important.

“It was bittersweet, but it was definitely a no-brainer,” she 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.”

On November 19, Jurnee finally underwent the blood stem cell donation. Doctors informed her beforehand that recovery would take 7 to 10 days, which meant that she won’t be able to play with her team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament scheduled for that weekend.

Still, Jurnee had no hesitations 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 told ABC 30. “So I had to sacrifice that. It was okay. It was worth it.”

Howard University

Her sacrifice was even more special given the fact that African-Americans only have a 23% chance of finding a match through the registry, according to Be The Match.

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

Despite missing out on an important game, her coach was completely supportive of her decision.

“You’re doing something bigger than volleyball,” Shaun 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.”

A few days after the procedure, Jurnee was cheering on her teammates as they played and ended up winning the title. They advance to the NCAA volleyball tournament, and the good news is that Jurnee will be able to play by then!

Howard University

“It’s one of those things that everything always works out the way it’s supposed to,” Shaun said. “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 give her best during the national championship game, Jurnee is encouraging everyone to extend the gift of life to somebody when they get the chance. She also hopes to meet the patient if her transplant is successful, which she will find out after a 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.”

Watch the video below from ABC News to learn more about this story.

Become a donor for Be The Match by clicking HERE.