Be The Match Ambassador Joins Performance Tech at Mid-Ohio
Blood Cancer Patient Uses the Gift of Racing to Bring Awareness
Performance Tech Motorsports is playing host to Be The Match Ambassador and karting racer Quinton O’Donnell, 20, through a mutual connection to Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.
O’Donnell, Boulder, Colorado, was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in February of 2015 at the age of 16 and is currently searching for an unrelated bone marrow donor, for an allogeneic transplant. For four years O’Donnell has managed his disease while raising awareness in the hope that the donor list will grow and more people in his situation will find matches quickly. It is through his efforts that he met Performance Tech driver, Dr. Robert Masson.
Late 2018, Dr. Masson was selected by Be The Match to be its medical investigator for studying and optimizing the procedures and processes necessary for safe and lifesaving bone marrow transplant procedures. O’Donnell met Masson while at a fund-raising event for Be The Match in New York, the event highlighted Masson’s groundbreaking work. While the two came together over their genuine interest in helping blood cancer patients find donors, they soon found that something else in common. They were both racers.
“At 16 when I was diagnosed my Make A Wish was learning to race,” O’Donnell said. “I attended the Bondurant Racing School. Now, I’m racing in the Skusa Pro Tour karting series. Last year I ran in the Colorado Karting Tour. If I were to move up into a car, I would want to go to sports car racing; sports cars are my first love. To race in a prototype car would be awesome, I’d also love maybe a GT3 car. I work for a car dealership that sells Ford and Lamborghini so I would really like to race a Lamborghini.
“I was supposed to race at Utah Motorsports Campus this weekend, but that fell through, so I came here. Robert had mentioned that he was going to come maybe to watch because they have a place in Utah. But I sent him a text that I wouldn’t be racing this weekend anymore, so he offered up a chance to come to watch the team race, and I would never turn that down. Just watching racing can be hard because I want to be out there, but I enjoy being at the track. I’m excited to be back at an IMSA race, I went to Dayton for fun this year with my Dad. I hadn’t met Robert yet so I wasn’t with Performance Tech at that one.”
O’Donnell is ever focused on health. Similar to Dr. Masson’s idea of pre-habilitation, training your body for recovery, O’Donnell keeps his body in shape to help it handle his treatments. He considers racing part of his fitness routine. He also finds racing perhaps the one gift his disease has given to him.
“I use racing to try to stay in shape,” O’Donnell said. “When I’m not able to race because of my medical background or what’s going on, I think of it like this; I was given the gift of racing. Had I not received my Make a Wish I would not have started racing or met friends like Robert and Kyle Masson. It almost goes hand on hand.”
His focus on physical fitness, a car obsession and a racing hobby has O’Donnell leading no different of lifestyle as any other driver on the grid at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend. Currently, O’Donnell’s treatments allow him to live a nearly healthy lifestyle as he takes part in clinical trials and immunotherapy.
At this time the changes brought on by his treatment plans are more minimal. One of the more significant changes brought on by his treatment plan includes traveling more often, removing him from his college classes at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The current clinical trials allowing him to have normality will eventually give way to his next transplant surgery. After having the transplant, O’Donnell will spend a year nearly isolated to protect his immune system and provide the transplant time to work.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect my life. I have a semi-normal life because I’ve dealt with this for four years,” O’Donnell said. “With immunotherapy and clinical trials my health and physical ability have been better, not normal, but better than a normal cancer patient. I like to think by participating in clinical trials that if one of those drugs is successful, I can somehow say I was a part of that and help other people. One of my clinical trials, it’s called the Car-T cell trial, requires me to be in Huston right now, so it didn’t fit into the school schedule. Every third month I’ll spend in Huston, that’s been for the last six months.
“This summer I’ll have a bone marrow transplant, then I’m basically in isolation. After I get the transplant, I’ll stay for a month in the hospital then go home, and I’ll have to keep to myself for the immune system aspect of it. The last transplant I had they harvested my own cells and gave them back to me. This time I’ll get someone else and what they’re hoping is that their immune system will notice my disease and attack it whereas at this point my own has not done that.”
The wait for a match can often be long for some patients partially due to the genetic complexity of matching donors to patients and the age limit put on donors. Understanding the difficulty of finding a match and waiting for his first transplant is what initially brought O’Donnell to become involved with Be The Match. He began his combat against the issue by holding a donor drive, an event held where potential donors sign up and receive a cheek swab kit on the spot. The kit is sent to a lab where genetic testing is done, and the registration process is completed.
“When your doctors first determine you need a transplant, they go to Be The Match to see if you have a donor,” O’Donnell said. “They’re the major registry for bone marrow transplant. Most patients don’t know as much about them because the doctors and hospitals do most of the work. I wanted to do the donor drive to give back do it for everyone in my situation. Our donor drive was set up in a food truck park. We had all the food trucks and then a booth to register people for the bone marrow registry. You fill out the paperwork and do the cheek swab test; it takes like five minutes. We signed up 90 or above people. I don’t think Be The Match thought we’d get that many people signed up because we ran out of packets for donors.”
O’Donnell’s work and Dr. Masson’s share, a similar goal, sign up more donors. While O’Donnell works on finding people for the registry, Dr. Masson focuses on making the process easier on patients going through the actual process of donating bone marrow. The two share a mutual respect for the work each has done toward advancing this goal.
“What Robert’s doing means a lot, he’s obviously a success, he didn’t’ have to do this,” O’Donnell said. “He’s doing this out of the good of his heart. He cares for people like me. It could save many lives, and it could increase the rate of donors dramatically. There will be more survivors because of his work. It’s awesome what he’s doing. No one thought to ask the question until recently of how we can make this better. Now, he’s the guy stepping up to the plate and trying to make it better.”
O’Donnell and Masson continue to search for avenues to raise awareness for both the Be The Match registry and the groundbreaking changes that will soon be made to bone marrow donation. This weekend, through Performance Tech Motorsport and Centinel Spine’s continued support of Be The Match, O’Donnell will reach out to race fans and ask them to save a life.
“This isn’t an issue a lot of people know about,” O’Donnell said. “It takes 20 minutes to save a life. That’s a gift for everyone involved. You have this amazing opportunity to sign up and see if you’re a match. If you’re interested in joining the registry, you can sign up on at http://join.bethematch.org, and you can have a kit sent to your house.”
O’Donnell will give the command at the IMSA Prototype Challenge race taking place tomorrow Sunday, May 5 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He will also be in the pit lane supporting the No. 38 Centinel Spine LMP2 in the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge taking place later the same day at 1:40 p.m. ET. He will watch his friend Kyle Masson start the two hour and 40-minute venture from pole position in the LMP2 class.