An Ocean Away

Posted December 3rd, 2014 by Be The Match and filed in News
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The life-changing call:

On September 9th Duke’s phone rang. Expecting one of his four children or his parents, he picked up the call. Instead, he heard the voice of a man he had never met – an oncologist. “I need you to come to the hospital tonight,” the doctor told Duke. He broke the news directly, “you have leukemia.”

Duke was at the hospital earlier that day being tested to determine the cause of his declining condition. He knew that something was wrong and was actually relieved to learn of the diagnosis and begin working out a treatment plan.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital that evening, Duke underwent additional testing. Within a day, his results were back. He was then faced with an even harder fact to comprehend, a fact that would shake his entire world: without immediate treatment, Duke only had a month to a month and a half to live.

That was six years ago, when Duke was 44. Thanks to a complete stranger, an ocean away, Duke is alive to share his story of faith, good fortune and, above all – survival.

The fight to survive:

 Shortly after Duke was diagnosed, he started chemotherapy. Amazingly, after a year of extremely aggressive treatment, Duke was pronounced cancer free; but he wasn’t in the clear just yet. His doctors told him they were certain the cancer would come back, and when it did, the disease would be stronger and more aggressive.

Unfortunately less than nine months later, the doctors’ prognosis was right. Duke’s cancer was back, and this time, he needed more than chemotherapy to survive. “My diagnosis was aggressive, so they knew they were going to have to do something to try and save me. The doctors told me, you aren’t going to survive without a marrow transplant,” said Duke.

The search for a match began by testing Duke’s siblings. When they tested negative, his doctors turned to the Be The Match Registry. That’s when Duke won what he would later call his “lottery ticket,” – a matched marrow donor. After intensive chemotherapy to prepare his body, Duke received the transplant that saved his life.

The meeting of a lifetime:

Immediately after his transplant, Duke knew he wanted to meet the young man that gave him his life back. “In my mind, I must have painted my donor a million different ways. I had thousands of questions for him,” said Duke.

In America, if both parties agree and the transplant center allows, a donor and recipient can meet one another, but must wait one year after transplant. Because Duke’s donor was from Germany, the waiting requirement was longer. After two years, Duke was finally able to reach out to the man who, at 27, saved his life by donating Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (one of two methods of marrow donation). Duke offered his donor the opportunity to fly to Colorado so they could meet.

In October, Duke’s donor, Marco, did just that.  Before he arrived, Duke had so many things he wanted to tell Marco, but most of all he wanted to say thank you. “There is a cascade effect when someone is diagnosed. It cascades to family to friends, to a huge amount of people, not just one. I wanted to make sure Marco knew that what he did affected a lot of people. I wanted my entire family to have the opportunity to give him a big hug and say thank you”

Marco and Duke spent the next 10 days together, getting to know each other and developing a deep bond. “It was definitely a connection we will maintain,” said Duke.

The blessings along the way:

When Duke looks back on his experience, he believes God had a plan for him and this faith is what helped him through the entire ordeal. “If everything was perfect, and bad things only happened to bad people, life wouldn’t be as brilliant as it is,” he said. “Bad things happen to good people too, there is no way around it, this allows us to realize just how fortunate we are.”

In addition to recognizing how fortunate he was, Duke learned something else about himself – he is stronger than he ever could have imagined. “You may think you know how you would respond to a life-changing event, but I would argue that you will never really know how strong you are until you are in the foxhole, fighting for your life,” he said.

Marco did what he promised, donated marrow to save a life. “At the end of the day, that’s what you want. You want everyone to have the chance like I did,” said Duke.


18 Responses to “An Ocean Away”

  1. Jesus A Arellano says:

    Awesome Event. Confirms A Greater Power At Work.Sad It Doesn’T Occur More Often, But Very Glad It Happened To You. God Speed.

  2. Ed says:

    I really hope my turn comes to serve as a marrow donor! Until then, I will continue to donate blood regularly. I have had an exceptionally happy life, and enjoy the idea of helping those in need to do the same.

  3. Mike Barre says:

    I am a match and am waiting for the call to proceed with the final step in my process of being a donor. this should be happening in January per my last update. I really appreciate hearing about how people are helping each other. i can’t wait to help the person I am a match for. the time cannot come soon enough. Been on the list since 2004.

    • Maria Garcia says:

      Mike my husband is now waiting for his transplant in 5 days. I want you to know that we think and pray for our Donor every day not only for his generosity but for his own health and well being. He is an amazing young man that will turn around the life of an entire family by his selfless act. I myself have been on the registry for 20 years and still hope to be a match for someone, now more than ever. May God Bless you richly.

      • Mike Barre says:

        Thank you for the support. I wish you and your husband the very best and look forward to reading your story. Now thats a christmas present. God bless. All i know is the lady is 59 years old at this time.

  4. Pam says:

    God had blessed you. My husband was diagnosed with myloid displasia in 2012. After months of treatments waiting to find a match, 2 were found that was a perfect match. He was to get his bone marrow transplant in June 2013. Unfortunately he became sepsis and passed away. I feel very fortunate that we had 2 so very willing to donate. I have been on the list since 1996. My Christmas wish is that I would be a match for someone who needs me and I could help save their life in rememberance of my husband.
    God bless.

    • Kandice says:

      I read your story about your husband. I lost my 17 year old daughter to aml leukemia. She also had sepsis after all her chemo treatments and passed. She also had two doner matches waiting . I’m on match too now waiting if I’m needed 🙂 this program is truly needed . I thank all who have takn the step to join this much needed program.

  5. Latasha says:

    Wonderful story,blessings to both of you. I’m awaiting the day that I can help someone.

  6. Anna M. says:

    What a beautiful story! I am waiting to be the match for someone, for now all I can do is donate my blood B-. It is in our human nature to be willing to save someone from suffering and it is a wonderful opportunity to extend the quality of life to a stranger that mean the world to their love ones. I hope everyone enjoy the holidays. Feliz Navidad!

  7. Sharon says:

    I’ve been a registered Bone Marrow donor for almost 10 years and I too am eager to help save someone’s life! God has been good to me and my family and I would love to bless someone else. I loved reading this story!

  8. Tamara says:

    I was a donor over 20 years ago. That was one of the greatest days of my life. For anyone considering being a donor it is a simple process and virtually pain-free. Giving the gift of life is the best gift you can offer someone. I encourage you to consider being a donor. Your life and that of your recipient will be changed and blessed.

  9. Sharon Owensby says:

    I lost a brother on January 12, 2010 to AML. I was not a match for my brother but immediately listed on the Match list. I then lost my Mother to Aplastic Anemia ( also a blood disorder) on Sept. 16th, 2010. I would feel so blessed to be called as a match for anyone, anywhere. The gift of life. God’s greatest gift!

  10. AMN says:

    I donated bone marrow not too long ago and from the donor side it’s hard to sit and wait to hear how your recipient is doing! I think it’s wonderful these two men met. So glad Be the Match exists to make stories like this possible.

  11. Elaine Santos says:

    I was a bone marrow donor in 2005, and I resquest to know ho was the recipient, but never had a reply, I hope my recipient is ok. I think would be so great to know the person I saved. I love to see this stories, it makes me cry.

  12. Mike Saraceno says:

    Marco is a hero, and I’m glad Duke is doing well. Faith in God and prayers make all the difference in the world.

  13. Duke aeman says:

    God Bless all of you. I must admit, reading the post below my story quickly had me in tears. Thanks to people like you I am alive today, knowing all too well how fortunate I am. Marco’s donation to me had a cascade affect on everyone in my life and some people following my care that I had never met. If you have been called on to donate and are reading this, please let me know what the call did for you once you received it.

  14. Michael Blackburn says:

    I have been on the list to donate since the mid 1980’s. I’m not a match yet but I hope I will be soon because I turn 60 in 2015. Thankfully I was blessed to have been able to donate a kidney last year to a young lady. In the meantime I continue to be a regular blood donor.

  15. Ruthie Sampier says:

    I was a bone marrow recipient in August 2014. I think about my donor every day and wish there was a way to let him/her know how well I’m doing and how grateful I am. I had MDS-myelodysplastic syndrome. I’m grateful to be alive to be able to enjoy my children and grandchildren.

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