University of New Hampshire senior Cameron Lyle had a decision to make: forgo the the last two meets of his college track career or buy someone else a couple more years of life.
To the New Hampshire native, it was an easy call.
The fourth-year management student will donate his bone marrow Wednesday. Following the arduous procedure, Lyle won't be able to lift more than 20 pounds over his head for at least a few weeks, throwing the rest of his senior outdoor track and field season out the window.
During Lyle's sophomore year, UNH athletes were encouraged to join the bone marrow registry. Lyle registered without thinking much of it until he was contacted last month by the National Marrow Donor Program telling him he was a 100% match with a 28-year-old male suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The patient had six months to live.
Lyle was terrified by the news but he knew right away it was an amazing opportunity and that he had to do it, especially considering the chances for a non-family match is just one in 5 million.
There are two methods of donation: peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) and bone marrow. The patient's doctor chooses the donation based on what is optimal for the patient.
The PBSC procedure is probably the more painful of the two and I know this because I've had the pleasure of working with someone who's experienced it. Five days prior to the donation, the donor is given injections of filgrastim to increase blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. On the day of donation, blood is removed through one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned through the other arm.
The bone marrow procedure takes place at a hospital, where the donor is given anesthesia before a needle withdraws liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. Since Lyle's donating though this method, his recovery will take much longer than if he was donating through the PBSC method.
Lyle's story is inspirational in my mind, not just because I compete against Lyle and the rest of his team just about every weekend, but because it also hits close to home. My aunt passed away in September of 2011 from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Her first bone marrow (stem cell) transplant failed — only one of two failures in the last two years for the hospital she was visiting. For the second attempt at a transplant, there were three remaining donors that matched her DNA "markers," the first choice never responded and the second choice needed time to negotiate with work so doctors went with the third and final option with time against them. The donor allowed for donation but only from bone marrow, not stem cells.
Although this transplant failed as well, my aunt was immensely appreciate for blood and platelet donors. In the conclusion of an email she sent just a few months before she passed away, she wrote: "I also thank God for those thousands worldwide who have signed up as bone marrow donors."
Marrow donation selection a tiresome, complicated process that requires a lot of hope and a good shot of luck. It doesn't always end up the way it's supposed to. Fortunately for Cam, a 100 percent match is exactly what this patient needs and it's likely his only chance for survival.
"I'd love to meet him some day," Lyle said. "He's not that much older than myself. I can't imagine what he's going through."
Lyle is a testament to the amazing, selfless, humble heroes that make this world a better place. There are more things to life than competing in athletics, and although I know he wants nothing more than to go out with a bang to cap an already successful career, teammates, coaches, and competitors alike will see his exist as one of most noble acts an athlete could ever take.
Good luck, Cam, and thank you for doing this.