December 3, 2012

John Greenhalgh the Latest Ram to Save a Life With Marrow Donation

KINGSTON, R.I.John Greenhalgh sat in the recovery room of the Rhode Island Blood Center on Tuesday, Nov. 20. He had bandage wraps around both arms, and a curious stranger sitting across the room asked if Greenhalgh had given blood from both arms at the same time.

No, Greenhalgh explained. He had just completed a bone marrow donation that would help save the life of an adult male who had been diagnosed with leukemia. In the process, Greenhalgh became the fourth person from URI athletics in the last 18 months to be an exact marrow match for a stranger through the Rhode Island football team's annual bone marrow drive.

The man – himself a frequent blood donor – was so moved by Greenhalgh's selfless act that he registered to be a potential marrow donor on the spot.

"It was pretty amazing," Greenhalgh said. "This man was curious about the fact I had two sets of bandages, and after I told him what I had just done, he turned to one of the nurses and asked if he could register himself. She took the swab of his cheek and signed him up right there. It felt pretty awesome to see someone else want to do something just because I had done it."

There are several aspects of Greenhalgh's experience with the marrow donation that make it amazing. It's not just that he is the fourth person in 18 months to be an exact match for a stranger. He had only registered last spring, during the football team's annual drive on behalf of Be the Match in April.

He also is following in the footsteps of his teammate and older brother Matt Greenhalgh, who was the first Ram to donate marrow back in April of 2011. Former Rhody rower Grace Rignanese completed a donation in January of this year, and defensive backs coach Ryan Mattison did the same in early October.

"When you think about it, what are the odds that two brothers would be matches for complete strangers?" Greenhalgh asked. "The nurses and staff at Rhode Island Blood Center obviously knew Matt's story, and they were really excited when I went in to start the process."

John Greenhalgh first learned he was a potential match during training camp back in August. He received the call just days after Matt flew to Orlando to meet the recipient of his own donation.

"The timing was remarkable," John Greenhalgh said. "Matt had literally just met his recipient, and then I was getting a call to say I might be a match. When I saw what it meant to Matt to do it, I hoped I'd get the chance, too. I never thought it would happen so quickly."

In October, word came that John Greenhalgh was indeed an exact match. He was scheduled to make the donation on Nov. 20, just three days after the season finale against Maine. For five days before the donation, he had to receive a shot in each arm to boost his white blood cell count. That meant getting shots the morning of the Maine game.

"The people at the Rhode Island Blood Center understood that I had a game that day, and they worked with me to make it happen," Greenhalgh said. "Instead of having me go all the way to Providence, they met me at the Blood Center in Warwick, so I could get back to Kingston in time.

"My coaches were very supportive. I had to skip the team breakfast. Coach [Roy] Istvan said, 'This is a great thing you are doing. Just make sure you get something to eat so you are taking care of yourself, too.' Having that kind of support meant a lot."

Greenhalgh completed the shots and was back in time not only for the game, but to be on the field pregame with his family when Matt was honored as part of Senior Day.

Three days later, it was Matt's turn to be there for his brother, as he joined other friends and family members at the hospital while the younger Greenhalgh went through with the donation.

"There was a lot that went into those days leading up to the actual donation," John Greenhalgh said. "There were some side effects from the drugs they gave me, so I had soreness and headaches, but it is a little discomfort for me, versus saving someone else's life.

"The day I was in there, a woman came into the Blood Center. She went to the counter and said she had received a call that she was a marrow match. Turns out she had registered 20 years ago.

"Seeing that put things into perspective for me even more. This woman was making a difference 20 years later. I only had to wait a few months."

Over the last four years, the Rhode Island football team has added more than 900 new registrants to the National Marrow Donor Program. To learn more about marrow donation or to make an online monetary donation, visit the Be the Match Foundation website. 

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