Norwich rallies in Charlie’s Corner
as employee, alum fights cancer © Feb. 11, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich Sports Information Director Charlie Crosby speaks to a news reporter at a bone marrow screening organized in his name.

photo by Jennifer LangilleNorwich Sports Information Director Charlie Crosby speaks with a news reporter at a bone marrow screening held in conjunction with a blood drive on Feb. 17, 2011, on Norwich’s campus.

Hundreds of Norwich students, faculty, staff and alumni have swabbed the insides of their cheeks, hoping beyond hope their bone marrow might save the life of a beloved Norwich University employee.

Charlie Crosby, Norwich’s sports information director and member of the Class of 1963, has had leukemia for 10 years. Until recently, he managed the illness with treatment. But just before Christmas in 2010, he learned his condition had turned acute. Without a bone-marrow transplant, his future is bleak.

“I’m on a short leash. If I don't find a match I’ll be in serious trouble,” said Crosby.

When the 9 million-person bone-marrow registry failed to produce a genetic match, Crosby told Norwich Pres. Richard Schneider he might have to stop working. Schneider’s reaction was immediate and emotional, and he decided to draw on the entire community of students, staff and alumni of Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college.

“This Norwich tradition of helping each other, I’m sure goes back to the beginning of the school,” said Schneider. “It’s certainly an Army tradition. We don’t leave a guy on the battlefield behind. We take care of our own.”

I was in the Corps of Cadets. I know what a brotherhood it is. I felt that the Corps would get behind this.

Charlie Crosby,
Norwich sports
information director

The result has been a school-wide bone marrow registration effort that has spread well beyond the Norwich family.

Organizers quickly added a bone-marrow screening option to its annual February 2011 blood drive, signing up 455 people. Alumni have been following the effort online, registering by mail. Other marrow drives were held at the University of Vermont and in other Vermont communities and health centers. A second drive occurred on campus during the ECAC hockey finals.

Schneider enlisted the help of Nicole DiDomenico, director of the Norwich Office of Civic Engagement, who facilitates volunteer work.

DiDomenico was trained to run a marrow drive, and quickly turned around to train faculty and students eager to volunteer.

“I think it’s wonderfully heartwarming to see our community coming together so quickly and so enthusiastically around this effort,” she said. “It’s what we encourage our students to do ... Service is what we preach.”

She enlisted the nursing department, whose members immediately signed on to help. Twenty nursing students and three faculty members staffed the February bone marrow drive.

Allison Sultan, assistant director for clubs and events in the Office of Alumni & Family Relations, handled the alumni response through online communities, Facebook and e-mail to the entire alum population.

“People who live hundreds or thousands of miles from campus had screening kits mailed to them,” she said.

The process is simple: Fill out paperwork, swab the inside of your cheek and mail everything to the registry. If there is a match of genetic material, more testing happens in preparation for a possible donation of bone marrow or blood-bourne stem cells.

In Charlie’s Corner, a Facebook page devoted to the effort, was established and has been followed by many Norwich students and alumni.

“I sincerely hope that a match is found for you soon. And wouldn’t it be great if it came from one of the students from Norwich,” commented one alumni. “Got the word from [Norwich’s online community]. Signed up same day. Waiting for kit to arrive. My Rook son will donate in the blood drive. Semper Fi!” wrote another.

Crosby continues working, following Norwich sports teams and getting his medical treatments. His immune system compromised, Crosby is fighting colds. If a match can be found and he has a bone-marrow transplant, there is a 55 percent chance of success. Crosby is one of more than 10,000 people nationwide who need a marrow transplant.

He is grateful for all the effort, but knows the chances of finding a match are slim. He keeps his spirits high for other reasons.

“One of the questions you ask when you get something like this is, ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this horrible plague?’” he said. “I served my country, stayed married ... raised a family. Maybe the answer is so I can save somebody else. That’s something I can hang my hat on. I can save somebody else.”

He reads the comments on Facebook, attends the bone-marrow drives and thanks volunteers and those registering. While he is a little taken aback by the scope of the effort, he confesses that he actually did expect this type of response.

“I’m a graduate of Norwich. I was in the Corps of Cadets. I know what a brotherhood it is. I felt that the Corps would get behind this.”