A former Ohio University student who played a significant role in Hillel’s “Got Swabbed” campaign died Sunday, just days after graduating. He was 24.
Haden DeRoberts was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in October 2011, his first year at OU. Despite a life-saving bone marrow donation in 2012 from an anonymous source, he died Dec. 4. Dean of Students Jenny Hall Jones went to his home last week to confer his degree and celebrate his graduation.
“I can’t stress enough of how good a guy he was and how good of a friend he was to me,” Alex Rosen, a childhood friend of DeRoberts, said. “Most of my life I knew him. He was an incredible, inspirational, super-weird-in-the-best-type-of-way guy that everybody loved.”
DeRoberts was a spokesperson for Hillel’s “Got Swabbed” campaign, which looks for matches for potential bone marrow donors. Since 2009, Hillel has swabbed more than 9,000 OU students, staff and faculty, resulting in 30 matches. One of those matches was Kevin Feinberg, a fifth-year senior studying human resources.
“I was a match to donate, so I talked to him about what it’s like to be a recipient,” he said. “I ended up donating (bone marrow) because of his story and others like it.”
DeRoberts campaigned vigorously for the “Got Swabbed” program, Lauren Goldberg, the assistant director of Hillel, said. The organization created a video featuring his story to motivate people to register in the bone marrow donor database.
He used his passion for music to raise awareness for the cause. Folk Fest, a music festival featuring multiple local and regional acts, is a product of DeRoberts’ time at OU.
“It started back in high school, and it was like in his backyard and not like a whole bunch of people, and it grew steadily,” Rosen, a senior studying English, said. “When we got to OU, he continued it. There was one this past year, and he raised a lot of money for bone marrow donations.”
Organizations took note of his passion for helping others, Goldberg said, because DeRoberts was offered a job to do what he loved.
“Eventually, he got a position at an organization that does exactly what he was interested (in), where they planned bone marrow drives at large concerts,” she said. “In so many ways, Haden took this incredibly unfair hand he was dealt, and he immediately transformed it into goodness and empowerment and also hope for other people who also had diseases.”
Although DeRoberts is no longer able to advocate for others in need of bone marrow donations, Goldberg said she knows he would want them to continue the work they’ve been doing.
“We’re just devastated that we’ve lost such an incredible person, but we know that what Haden would want is to keep entering people into the bone marrow registry and to keep up the work he so relentlessly did to get donors for others,” Goldberg said.
Originally published for The Post on December 6, 2016.