What Hurricane? Firefighter, Craig Donates during Rita

Be The Match Feature Story - People join the Be The Match Registry® for all sorts of reasons. Whether a family member or friend needs a marrow transplant or they are simply believers in the cause. For Craig, a firefighter from Pasadena, Texas, his daughter had a friend with leukemia who was fighting for her life.

“My daughter held a car wash to fundraise, and I wanted to do something to help too,” said Craig. “I called my local blood center and decided to join the registry.”

The Call to Donate

Like many others, Craig joined the registry thinking he would never get the call to donate, or at least not right away. Little did he know that just four months later he would get the call. “I got a phone call saying that they wanted for me to come down for additional testing,” said Craig. After the additional testing and physical exam, Craig received another call from the blood center, this time asking if he would still be interested in going through with the marrow donation, pending a final round of tests.

While waiting to see the doctor to receive the results of his testing, Craig noticed a little girl around 10-years-old who had cancer. “At that point, it got real,” said Craig. The doctor explained that out of eight HLA markers, six were an exact match with a 62-year-old woman with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Craig decided to move forward and the donation was scheduled for September 2005.

Not Even a Hurricane Could Stop Craig’s Donation

Two days before Craig’s scheduled donation, news sources in Texas and nationwide put out an alert that a category five hurricane named Rita was headed for the gulf coast and was expected to hit Pasadena, where Craig lived and was supposed to donate.  As a firefighter, Craig would be responsible to help in a natural disaster like Hurricane Rita. When Craig explained his situation to the blood center, he discovered that the patient was very sick and could die if the donation was postponed. This meant that Craig needed to donate bone marrow (extracted from the hip) in the middle of a hurricane. The hospitals evacuated everyone who did not need necessary surgery in preparation for the hurricane, and Craig was admitted for donation.

After his donation, Craig was picked up in a fire engine by his fellow firemen.  Because everyone was trying to get out of town before the storm, traffic was gridlocked. He was told to lean forward in the fire engine as they put the lights and sirens on to get Craig home. Once Craig was home safe, the hurricane made a right turn and missed Pasadena – dumping rain and 30 mile per hour wind gusts on the city.

Meeting this “Fiery Little Lady”

A year after his donation, Craig received a call from the blood center, asking if he wanted to meet his recipient. “My first response was no.” said Craig. “I didn’t donate to be a hero.  I donated because it felt like the right thing to do.” When the blood center reached out to Craig a second time, they told him that they wanted to share their meeting with others to encourage new potential donors to join the registry, he agreed.

In October 2006, Craig met his recipient, Kathleen. “I told the reporters the whole story, I didn’t pay attention to the camera,” said Craig. “Then this fiery little lady ran at me, threw her arms around me and I thought she was going to run me over.” Craig and Kathleen stayed in contact off and on after their meeting. Then one day a couple of years later, Craig received a phone call from Kathleen’s husband, letting him know that she had passed away.  Her husband and daughter both told Craig that without him, their family wouldn’t have had Kathleen as long and they were so grateful.

In Honor of Kathleen

In 2012, Craig decided to participate in a Be The One Run (now Be The Match Walk+Run) event. He was asked to fill out a race bib stating he was running in honor of Kathleen. It was then that it all came together for Craig. He finally realized the difference he had made.

“After 28 years of saving people from all types of terrible things, I thought this was nothing more than an extension of who I am and what I do,” said Craig. “She was special, she was something. I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to do something.”

Honor, celebrate and memorialize your loved ones and recipients like Kathleen. Participate in a Walk+Run event near you or give funds to help add more potential donors to the registry, advance transplant research and improve access to treatment.