College of Charleston basketball player Mikaela Hopkins has received plenty of pats on the back recently, and not all of them for her feats on the court.
Bone Marrow Donor Drive
Bone Marrow Donor Registry
Where: Physicians Memorial Auditorium, 72 George Street
When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Tuesday
Hopkins, a junior center, leads the Colonial Athletic Association in field goal percentage (67.3 percent) and is the league's eighth-leading scorer with 13 points per game. She's averaged nearly 18 points in her last three games.
But Hopkins also has been receiving accolades for her crusade to raise awareness of the importance of becoming a bone marrow donor.
It's an issue that became personal for Hopkins a year ago when a close friend's mother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
With the help of College of Charleston women's basketball coach Natasha Adair and members of the school's marketing staff, Hopkins and her teammates played a basketball game to raise money and draw attention to AML.
The basketball team will hold a bone marrow registry drive Tuesday on campus. And Hopkins helped spread her message by writing a first-person article for the Huffington Post, an online news source.
"I didn't really expect (the article) would generate this much attention. I was hoping I could inform people how important it is to be on the bone marrow registry. I've gotten so much feedback, it's been awesome," Hopkins said.
"People have been telling me how great it is what I'm doing, but at the same time that's not what I want to hear. I want to hear they're signing up for the registry."
Adair said she knew something was wrong when Hopkins came to her during the middle of last season.
"Mikaela is so full of sunshine. If she's sad then there's something wrong," Adair said.
Hopkins shared with her coach the story of how her family moved to Sumter when she was a freshman in high school. Hopkins, the newest and tallest girl in the school (she's 6-5), was befriended by Alex Williams. They became and remain best friends. Alex's mother, Tammy, was like a second mother to Hopkins.
Hopkins said she was devastated last year when Alex called her with the news.
"I was so upset. This was one of the first times cancer had really hit home for me," Hopkins said. "When I was in high school, each year our school participated in a leukemia campaign. It's crazy to think our school was raising money for something we didn't know that much about and it turns out it's for Alex's mom."
Adair suggested playing a game to raise money for leukemia research.
"That immediately perked her up," Adair said. "Without us finalizing anything it helped change her thoughts from emptiness and sorrow to action."
Hopkins took it from that point, researching organizations and meeting with the school's marketing department. The College of Charleston designated the Jan. 23 game against Towson as Childhood Cancer Benefit Night with proceeds benefitting the Press On Fund (pressonfund.org), an organization dedicated to research focused on neuroblastoma and AML, both deadly pediatric cancers.
"She came back and said 'Coach, this is what we're going to do.' She detailed it thoroughly," Adair said. "All I had to do was give her support and let her know we're a family, that when one family member hurts, we all hurt."
The Williams family attended the game and Hopkins presented Tammy, whom she calls Momma W, with a bouquet of roses,
"It was such a special moment we were able to share," Hopkins said. "The love that was shown, it brought a lot of emotion. It shows that people really do care.
"It was an incredible thing. I was so privileged to be able to do that for her and be able to give back some of the love she has shown to me."
Hopkins has since learned that Williams is no longer in remission and needs a bone marrow transplant, making Tuesday's registry drive all the more important.
"It was really awesome to be able to honor her in that way before she had to go back into the hospital for treatment," Hopkins said. "Right now she feels so much stronger because she knows she has all that support and that so many people care about her. That's been giving her a positive outlook."
College of Charleston center Mikaela Hopkins, pictured with teammate Brittany Johnson (20), is trying to raise awareness of the importance of being a bone marrow donor. Al Samuels/College of Charleston×