Twins identified as marrow matches for the same patient
Marrow donor Hannibal (l), with mom Brigette, dad Larry, and twin brother Malcolm.
It is not unusual for siblings to both want to join the registry and become potential lifesavers. Due to the way matching factors (called human leukocyte antigens or HLA) are inherited from their parents, there’s a 25% chance that any two siblings will be born with the same factors and could be matched with the same patient. So it made perfect sense when identical twins Hannibal and Malcolm, who also have identical HLA types, were found as matches for the same teenaged patient in need of a transplant.
The two brothers swabbed their cheeks at the World Marrow Donor Day drive on September 25, 2016, at Mississippi State University, where they were seniors. Their friend Bradley Welch, a Gift of Life Campus Ambassador, organized the drive on this international day of thanks that honors the millions of marrow donors around the world.
Most people never have the opportunity to save a life, but only four months after joining the registry, Hannibal’s phone rang. Gift of Life told him he was a match for a teen diagnosed with leukemia. Two minutes after the call was over, Malcolm’s phone rang: he, too, learned that was a match – for the same patient!
“Several members of our family have had cancer; our great grandmother, aunt, and grandfather all suffered from cancer,” said Hannibal. “We felt it as important that if we could do something, that we do it.”
Both brothers agreed to proceed with further testing to see if they were the best possible match. Although both of these generous young men were ready to save a life, the transplant center chose Hannibal to donate bone marrow, with Malcolm as the backup donor if he was needed. Both were happy to be called and either of them would have donated.
“Cancer touches everyone, and this is a way you can do something about it. You get a chance to save someone else. It’s not scary – you’re changing someone’s life!” —Hannibal
Their parents were fully supported of Hannibal and Malcolm’s decision and learned about the process with their sons. Hannibal’s only request was that collection be done after graduation. He got his wish, and flew with his mom, Brigette, on the day of the donation.
The donation went as easily and quickly as expected. Hannibal and his mom went home and he spent a few days resting up and watching trivia shows on TV, especially Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? “You should send them a video audition,” Malcolm told him. He did just that (view audition video), and has since been a contestant on an episode of the show that aired Monday December 11, 2017.
Hannibal has a message for anyone thinking of becoming a donor: “Cancer touches everyone, and this is a way you can do something about it. You get a chance to save someone else. It’s not scary – you’re changing someone’s life.” Twin Malcolm, who says he had a great experience with the Gift of Life staff members, also has a message to share with prospective donors, “Not everyone can cure cancer, but everyone can help to fight it.”
Although they did not realize it at the time, their family has another connection with Gift of Life: their father, Larry, works at McKesson Corporation, a major corporate supporter of the organization. McKesson sponsors the Boston Steps for Life 5k, and runs donor registration drives during their annual employee health screening days. McKesson has added more than 3,100 donors to the registry that recently resulted in their first lifesaving transplant.
After taking the summer off, the ambitious brothers entered graduate school at the University of Virginia to pursue their Master of Science in Commerce degrees, with plans to enter brand management or consulting. Their ultimate aim is to work in the entertainment industry. Hannibal has heard that his recipient is recovering, and he hopes they will be able to meet someday.
Interesting fact: marrow transplants started with twins
In 1956, the first successful marrow transplant was accomplished by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas between identical twins, one of whom suffered from leukemia. Thomas was awarded the Nobel prize for his work in establishing bone marrow transplantation as an effective, livesaving therapy.