SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A Springfield resident saved the life of a 9/11 first-responder and retired FDNY firefighter by donating bone marrow.

Ryan Crooker, a former football player at Springfield College, joined the Be The Match Registry back in 2014, according to a news release from Be The Match. This organization facilitates more than 6,000 blood stem cell or marrow transplants every year.

Seven years after he registered, Crooker received a call stating that he was a match. In October, Crooker met with Brian Kevan, a 9/11 first responder and transplant recipient, whose life was saved due to the donation.

When several doses of chemotherapy or radiation needed to cure a cancer are so high that a person’s bone marrow stem cells will be permanently damaged or destroyed by the treatment, a bone marrow transplant might be needed, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

According to Be The Match’s website, doctors look for a donor who matches their patient’s tissue type, specifically their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. HLAs are proteins, or markers, that are found in most cells in your body. These proteins are used in your immune system to recognize which cells belong in your body and which don’t. The closer the match between the patient’s HLA markers and yours, the better it is for the patient.

Donating bone marrow is a surgical procedure that is done under general or regional anesthesia in a hospital. While a donor receives anesthesia, doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. 

FDNY’s Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said in September that the number of first responders who have died from illnesses from the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy has equaled the same number of deaths that occurred on the day the north and south towers fell. A total of 343 FDNY colleagues died on that day and there have been 343 deaths since then.

Kevan and Crooker met each other during a meeting in October that was put together by Be The Match, and they both discussed their personal experiences and what this donation meant to them.

“For the first year. You’re not allowed to, you know, know who he is. But I wrote a letter to him and, I didn’t hear back. I kept calling in to find out, have we heard anything? Has he written back? Because I just wanted to thank him, you know, every day he said my, whoever he was, I just wanted to know who he was and thank him for, for his donation and what he did for my life. And, you know, for my girlfriend’s life and for my family,” said Kevan.

“It’s amazing to me how such a small amount of effort can lead to such a great outcome. Um, it, it’s really amazing to see Brian now and, and everything he’s been able to overcome. And I’m, I’m happy I was able to play a, a piece in that later,” said Crooker.

They both hope that their story helps more patients who are battling blood cancers and blood diseases find matching donors. As November is National Marrow Awareness Month, it is important to help those around you, especially during the holiday season.

“Just get swabbed and know that at some point your phone might ring and say, Hey, you’re a match. And you could save someone’s life. It could be a kid’s life, it could be an adult’s life, it could be anybody,” said Kevan.

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