INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Butler initiative Project 44 launched just over a year ago, and in the past few months, the effort to save 44 lives in Andrew Smith's memory gained some powerful new teammates.
"I think Chase and myself and others who have taken action, it's because we've realized how special Andrew was and how his impact can still continue to help," former Bulldogs forward Erik Fromm said.
Fromm and Chase Stigall played alongside Smith in Butler's back-to-back national championship appearances.
Now both are working in different ways to honor their teammate who passed away last year after a public battle with leukemia.
"Chase joined at Andrew's funeral, where they hosted a Be The Match drive. And he was called as a match last year where he donated his marrow to a two-year-old patient,” Krissi Edgington, Butler University strategic communications advisor and Project 44 co-founder, said.
Now, Stigall will share his story with basketball fans at the Final Four in Phoenix as part of a campaign to target the most desirable donors.
"When doctors call for donors, they most often call for donors between the ages of 18 and 35, predominantly males, mainly because they have the most marrow and generally they are the healthiest," Edgington said.
"Anytime you're in a position to influence, in a positive way, I think you should 100% go out of your way to get that done, and Chase going out to Phoenix is awesome trying to target those guys,” Fromm said.
The goal of Project 44 is to commit enough potential bone marrow donors to the Be The Match registry to save 44 lives.
"We've got a little ways to go still, towards that goal of 18,920 registrants, but we're seeing a lot of momentum right now," Edgington added.
Fromm, who also lost his father to cancer, has joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's “Man of the Year” campaign.
"The goal is to raise as much money as possible,” Fromm explained. “Every dollar raised in my campaign counts as a point for the total number and all the proceeds from every campaign at this gala in May, it all goes towards cancer research and helping support those families.”
But perhaps the most visible personality for Project 44 isn't a person at all; Butler mascot Trip is lending his four-legged fame to the cause.
"In the wake of Andrew Smith's passing, we saw an opportunity to partner with Be the Match and make this dog a ‘spokes dog’ if you will for the organization and the cause," Michael Kaltenmark, director of community and government relations at Butler University, said.
Trip is a national ambassador for Be The Match, and although Trip may not be a potential donor himself, his social media status is activating plenty of people who can.
"What's really cool is when they respond and say, 'Hey, Trip, I'm doing this because you asked me to,' or when they get called up, they've made the list and they've been asked to make the next step and actually become a donor and those are the really cool social media messages that we can all celebrate," Kaltenmark, who co-founded Project 44 and serves as Trip’s human handler, said.
While the efforts of Tripp, Chase and Erik may each be different in execution, they're unified in their mission and in Smith's memory.
"It’s going to happen to everyone at some point or someone you know, it may not be your father or your close friend but raising money now to prevent and hopefully find a cure could definitely impact all of our lives down the road,” Fromm said.