At least four times a year, David Lambour packs two carry-on bags. One has his clothes in it. The other holds what he calls his “space age cooler.”
He selects his most understated attire. Dark clothes. A polo or button-down. No white tennis shoes. No loud T-shirts.
He heads to the airport, boards a plane and tries to keep to himself, careful not to engage in conversation that would lead anyone to ask what’s in the cooler.
Because what’s in the cooler holds the promise of saving someone’s life. It is the cure to someone’s leukemia, lymphoma or other blood disease. It is more time with a child, a chance to climb a mountain, an opportunity to walk a daughter down the aisle.
Lambour is one of several hundred volunteer couriers for the National Marrow Donor Program, also known as Be The Match, the world’s leader in providing marrow and umbilical cord transplants to sick and dying patients. Theirs is an invisible army that crisscrosses domestic and international skies each year, carrying potentially life-saving bone marrow and cord blood needed in roughly 460 transplants a month.
“If it’s a chance to help,” Lambour says, “why not?”
At 54, the story of how Lambour, director of academic services in the University of New Orleans’ Department of Planning and Urban Studies and coordinator of the undergraduate degree program in urban studies and planning, found himself in this role is somewhat unremarkable. He was in the midst of seeking his second bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of New Orleans in 2001 when a neighbor who worked for the National Marrow Donor Program asked him if it might be something he would try.
Lambour thought it sounded like something he could pull off with his class schedule and other commitments. His professors were more than willing to accommodate. For the first year, he traveled within the United States. And in 2002, he started taking international trips: Germany, France, England, The Netherlands and more.
At first, Lambour viewed the trips as opportunities to travel abroad without incurring a ton of personal expense. Though the journeys are brief, allowing couriers to extend their stay in the destination location at their own cost, Lambour enjoyed using that extra time to take in international architecture and, his weakness, chocolatiers.
But there came a point when the gravity of his mission began to hit home.
He recalls one trip full of travel headaches, delays and inconveniences. He was seated in a waiting room, finally having reached the drop-off location, his mind filled with complaints, when a man in a wheelchair nearby seemed to be getting excited and slightly agitated.
“I’m happy today,” the man finally burst out to someone with him.
“Why?” the other person asked.
“Marrow today,” the man responded.
“I wanted to break down right then and there,” Lambour recalls.
The older he’s gotten, he says, the more meaningful these trips have become.
“It is not a hobby anymore,” he says. “This is business. This is serious. I call this more of a calling.”
The donors, he says, are the true heros.
Now, as he moves through airports and deals with zealous security agents, he does so with his aim in mind. Someone on the other end of his flight is waiting for what he is carrying.
And though Lambour will never meet this person, for the last 15 years he has set aside nearly all of his annual vacation time at UNO to make sure this mother, father, child—someone whose life has been upended by illness they cannot control—has a chance to live.
For more information about how to donate or be a volunteer for Be The Match, visit marrow.org or call 1-800-MARROW-2.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in Silver & Blue, Fall 2016 edition, the University of New Orleans' magazine for alumni, students and friends of UNO.