Health Inc.

Could This Woman Persuade You To Donate Bone Marrow?

Natasha Smahlei, a model, works at the Caitlin Raymond International Registry exhibit in October. i i

Natasha Smahlei, a model, works at the Caitlin Raymond International Registry exhibit in October during the New England Business Expo at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. Paul Kapteyn/Courtesy of www.telegram.com hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Kapteyn/Courtesy of www.telegram.com
Natasha Smahlei, a model, works at the Caitlin Raymond International Registry exhibit in October.

Natasha Smahlei, a model, works at the Caitlin Raymond International Registry exhibit in October during the New England Business Expo at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.

Paul Kapteyn/Courtesy of www.telegram.com

The models who corralled would-be donors of bone marrow for a registry at the UMass Memorial Health Care System reportedly wore short skirts, high heels and blue wigs as they worked New England malls.

When I first heard about the scheme on NPR's Morning Edition, all I could muster was a very deep breath followed by "Really?!?"

Then I tracked down a picture of one of the models on the website of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which was kind enough to share it with NPR. Yes, the wigs really were that color blue.

After a preliminary investigation the New Hampshire Attorney General alleged that the Caitlin Raymond International Registry, part of UMass Memorial Health Care, had paid as much as $50,000 a week for models to drum up potential donors, telling them that testing wouldn't cost them a thing.

The test itself involves rubbing a few cells from the inside of your cheek onto a cotton swab. A lab then determines from the cells what type of bone marrow you have.

"The models worked the crowds, if you will," New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Jim Boffetti explained to the New York Times. "We were told basically they would engage a lot of younger men with some sort of flirtatious thing: 'Hey, don’t you want to be a hero? Come on, do this!' "

And it turned out, the lab testing the samples was billing insurers as much as $4,300 per test.

In a statement cited by New Hampshire Public Radio, the health system and registry acknowledged using models but having stopped the practice. New Hampshire officials said recruitment had been halted altogether there.

Update: UMass Memorial and the registry sent a copy of their statement. It says, in part:

As part of the donor recruitment effort, UMass Memorial has used models to help acquaint the public on how they can contribute to this lifesaving effort before introducing a prospective donor to a member of the Caitlin Raymond staff. While the important work of recruiting bone marrow donors by CRIR will continue at sites other than those in New Hampshire, UMass Memorial has already discontinued the use of the models.

You can read the entire statement here.

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