Wesleyan University junior tight end Matt Long, from Williston, Vt., hopes to make a new friend in about a year. In about a year? Why would a 6-5, 240 pound scholar-athlete at a prestigious college like Wesleyan who was named an academic all-NESCAC choice in 2011 need to wait 12 months to make a new acquaintance? One very special reason.
This past spring, Matt was coaxed by a schoolmate to enlist in a bone marrow donor program during a drive on campus. It was sponsored by DKMS, the world's largest bone marrow donor program. Thus, Matt was on a donor matching list after a cheek swab. The general consensus is that any individual donor has less than a one percent chance of being called upon to donate. When is does happen, it could be years after the potential donor is first in the system. For Matt, the wait was about four months. "In late August, just before the start of camp [preseason football training], I received an urgent overnight letter," Matt explained. It identified that he was a preliminary match for an anonymous patient. Matt was tested further in his home area and things looked promising.
Shortly thereafter, Matt was transported to Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C. for more testing and he was found to be at least a 99 percent match for a patient in need of treatment. "I know three things about him - he's in his 30s, he lives somewhere in the midwest and his illness is some form of cancer," Matt said.
Needless to say, the prime time for a college football player to be asked to donate bone marrow is not October, but duty called. While Matt was on the line Saturday, Oct. 6 (see photo below, #86 on left side) helping block for junior Sebastian Aguirre's game-winning 20-yard field goal at Colby in a 31-28 Wesleyan victory, the next day, he was receiving shots from local medical service in Middletown to prepare him for his donation. The injections are used to stimulate bone marrow production and leave the soon-to-be donor weak and drained physically. Not the kind of condition a football player prefers. The injections continued for five days as Matt was once again transported to Georgetown Wed., Oct. 10. He underwent the five-hour procedure Thursday, Oct. 11 for removal of bone marrow. "I wasn't completely knocked out. I'd say I was in a semi-conscious state," Matt stated.
Matt wasn't at Bates Saturday, Oct. 13 to witness the Cardinals' exciting 24-22 victory in person, but was home in his campus room watching the webcast transmitted from Bates as his teammates hung on for the squad's fourth win of the season in four starts. It is the first 4-0 record for Wesleyan since 1998. One of Matt's housemates is junior Kevin Hughes, the Cardinals' leading receiver who had five catches for 61 yards against the Bobcats. Matt has already been cleared to resume action and should be back on the field when the Cardinals take on heated Little Three rival Amherst Saturday, Oct. 20 during Wesleyan's Homecoming/Family Weekend festivities.
When asked what he might say to the recipient of his marrow in a year's time, the time frame DKMS requires for anonymity to be preserved, Matt was caught a bit off guard. "That's a good question," Matt remarked. "I guess I'd say I'm really glad he's feeling all right and maybe that I know he would have done the same for me if I was in his condition. It's kinda like karma, like it was meant to be." Then as a final reflection, Matt added, "I'm glad I have a year to think about it."