As seniors at Mississippi State University, twin brothers Hannibal and Malcolm Brooks decided to register as bone marrow donors.
The brothers, both now enrolled in the one-year M.S. in Commerce program at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, knew several friends and family members impacted by cancer and felt strongly about doing their part to help. Their close friend was leading the registration drive at Mississippi State and donors received a free batch of cookies. What did they have to lose?
“Getting registered and swabbed is very easy,” Hannibal said, referring to the simple procedure used to collect cheek cells from potential donors for testing. “I would definitely advise that everyone consider doing it.”
His twin agreed. “Cancer touches so many families, and so many people die waiting for a transplant, particularly minorities who have a lower chance of finding a match,” Malcolm said. “Being a donor does not take much, and it can save a life.”
Bone marrow transplants are used to treat patients whose own bone marrow has been destroyed by diseases, including many types of cancer. However, it can be difficult for patients to find a donor with matching tissue. Only about 1 in 300 potential donors are selected as the best match for a patient.
The Brooks twins defied those odds.
The identical twins both matched with the same patient, a 14-year-old girl fighting leukemia. Ultimately, Hannibal was selected as the donor, with Malcolm serving as a backup option.
Shortly after graduating from Mississippi State in May, Hannibal flew to New Jersey with his mother for the surgical procedure, where a doctor used a special needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the pelvic bone while Hannibal was under anesthesia. Though he was not a big fan of the needles, Hannibal said that the donation procedure and the recovery process went smoothly.
“It went really quickly, and the doctors were excellent,” he said.
While Hannibal was recuperating from the donation, the twins’ story took another turn.
Malcolm, at home in Pensacola, Florida, helping his brother pass the time during his recovery, encouraged Hannibal to film an audition for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the popular trivia game show that both brothers love to watch.
“We have always enjoyed trivia and were on academic teams and did competitions in high school,” Hannibal said. “Malcolm helped me film the audition, and we got the callback the day after sending the video in.”
Both brothers flew to Las Vegas for filming just two days before they were scheduled to start the Commerce master’s program at UVA. The episode aired last Monday.
“It was great,” Hannibal said. “One of the best parts was just being on set and working with the staff behind the scenes.”
Hannibal had a strong run on the show, answering nine consecutive questions correctly and even bringing Malcolm on stage for some assistance, leaving host Chris Harrison fascinated by their ability to finish each other’s sentences.
Though he missed the $50,000 question – a tough one about the medical function of the punctum – Hannibal walked away with $5,000. (For the record, punctum is the medical term for the opening of a tear duct.)
“I wasn’t totally up on my medical terminology,” he said. “But it was a lot of fun.”
He plans to use his winnings this spring during McIntire’s Global Immersion Experience study abroad program, a required component of the program that takes students all over the world to study how different regions do business. Hannibal will travel to Southeast Asia in May, while Malcolm will go to China.
“The global travel component of the M.S. in Commerce program was really important to me,” Malcolm said, “and I love how it combines creativity, analytics and business.”
Both brothers enrolled in the master’s program to supplement their undergraduate degrees in food science, a program that focused on science, technology and research.
“I loved the scientific applications of the food science program, but I realized I wanted to do something more dynamic,” Hannibal said. “McIntire is a great place to transform any skillset you have and move into the business world.”
In addition to graduating from McIntire this spring and spending the “Millionaire” winnings in Asia, both brothers are looking forward to learning more about the patient who received Hannibal’s bone marrow. The donation registry the twins joined, called Gift of Life, requires patients’ contact information to be kept confidential for one year. After that, patients and donors can interact if they choose.
So far, Hannibal said, he has received one update about the anonymous patient, when a Gift of Life staff member called a few days ago to tell him that the girl was doing well.
“I am looking forward to talking with her one day, if that works out,” Hannibal said.