FOX 26 Houston - Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Chris Seitz often helps his team beat the opposing team, but he went beyond that by helping a man beat cancer. Now he's teaming up with Houston Methodist Hospital to encourage others to sign-up on the bone marrow registry.
"It's a simple, simple cheek swab and just takes five minutes to sign up," says Chris. He did it in 2008 to support a teammate, who's wife was fighting leukemia. "We all joined - just to show our solidarity, to be part of the movement and show our support. Four years later, three cities later, five addresses later, but the same phone number and email address, I received a phone call saying I was a match," smiles Chris.
At that time, Chris was playing soccer for FC Dallas, and it was the middle of the season. He broke the news to his coach and team and asked permission to play a big role in this important mission. "At first, they said, no worries, do it during off-season! I was like NO, this guy is on his last round of chemo, there is no more chemo, his DNA, his body will be at 0 and ready to re-start, and they need it now. This is not something on our time," explains Chris.
He got the green light from his coach, flew out-of-state, and underwent an invasive procedure to help save a man's life. All he knew was that he was trying to save the life of a 60-year old man, who had run out of treatment options. "They put me under and they drilled two holes in my pelvis, but 26 holes on both sides, so 52 total, to extract bone marrow. It sounds intense - but I literally had two kid Band-Aids on my lower back when I walked out of the hospital," says Chris.
It did take Chris two months to fully recover, re-train, and head back to the soccer field. He says anyone else who undergoes a procedure like this could return to a desk job within two weeks. He wants others to know that there are many options for bone marrow donations and other types don't take as much healing time. We talked to one man in Houston who donated bone marrow and was back at work two days later, plus he saved a woman's life who was fighting leukemia.
Two years after donating marrow, Chris got to meet the man he saved, Phil Richiuso. FC Dallas shared video and an interview with us that they shot on that special day. "Thank you is not enough. You get emotional. Not a day goes by without us thinking about him and his family," says Phil, who received Chris's bone marrow.
"It's special! I met his daughter and that was huge - saw what it meant to have her dad around for Christmas and birthdays and being able to talk to him about the people he has been able to create and experiences and all of the Christmases are overwhelming," smiles Chris. Plus, Chris has gained a new fan! Phil jokes that he has become much more agile and gets around better since receiving this professional athlete's bone marrow. He has also become a huge fan of Chris wherever he plays, including the Houston Dynamo!
Chris hopes that he and Houston Methodist Hospital, through Public Service Announcements, can help encourage others to consider being a bone marrow donor. He says a small sacrifice can lead to a huge gain for someone else. That's a gooooaaaaaallllll that Chris is thrilled to make happen. As Houston Methodist Hospital helps spread the important message, one of their Hematologists/Oncologists, Dr. Sai Ravi Pingalil, explains why a bone marrow transplant is needed in the first place. "The patient doesn't have any last hope to beat their cancer and that is why we should all be aware of this process of bone marrow donation or stem cell donation. Like Chris did, he saved somebody's life and that's truly a humanitarian thing to do. One other thing to remember: Unlike kidney or any other donation, once you lose a kidney, you'll never get it back. That's not the case for bone marrow. You are at very minimal risk in this process, and they should not be missing their bone marrow, because it will re-grow in a week or so," explains Dr. Pingalil.
More than 31 million people have signed up to donate, but many more are needed, because it's often difficult to find a DNA match.
To sign up, go to www.BeTheMatch.org
Houston Methodist Cancer Center: https://www.houstonmethodist.org/cancer/
Dr. Sai Ravi Pingali: https://www.houstonmethodist.org/doctor/sai-pingali/