MAYWOOD, IL – Leukemia survivor Michael Beltrame, a 42-year-old father of three, owes his life to a complete stranger who altruistically donated bone marrow cells for Mr. Beltrame’s successful bone marrow transplant.
“Thank God I have a donor who thought of other people,” Mr. Beltrame told about 400 patients, family members, caregivers, donors and cancer center staff members who attended the annual celebration at Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin cancer center.
Mr. Kennedy, 23, of Lancaster, Pa., registered to become a bone marrow donor at the urging of his college football coach, who signed the entire team up for the Be the Match® National Marrow Donor Program®.
After graduating, Mr. Kennedy was informed he was a perfect match for Mr. Beltrame, and immediately agreed to donate. A large needle was used to withdraw marrow cells from Mr. Kennedy’s pelvis. He spent the night at a local hospital and was sore for a few days.
“But it wasn’t that bad,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It felt like I had been in a rough football game. I would definitely do it again.”
Mr. Beltrame, of Channahon, Illinois, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a fast-growing cancer of white blood cells. He underwent high-dose chemotherapy and whole-body radiation to kill the cancer cells. While wiping out the cancer, the treatments also killed Mr. Beltrame’s immune system cells. He received an infusion of Mr. Kennedy’s bone marrow cells, which developed into healthy new immune system cells.
“Despite all the technology we deploy, we still rely on the good intentions of donors,” said Patrick Stiff, MD, who performed Mr. Beltrame’s bone marrow transplant and is director of the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center.
Dr. Stiff said he continually is amazed that donors such as Mr. Kennedy “are willing to go through a potentially painful procedure to save the life of someone they have never even met.”
Mr. Kennedy said he was especially motivated to donate because Mr. Beltrame has three children (two boys and a girl, ages 12, 13 and 15). “I would like them to grow up with their father,” he said. Mr. Kennedy met Mr. Beltrame’s children, along with his wife, Michelle, and other family members.
Dr. Stiff said Mr. Beltrame is in remission and likely cured.
“I’ve learned to enjoy life every day,” Mr. Beltrame said. “There’s never a bad day.”
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