Blood donation saved Matt’s life. Or rather, donating blood did.
Matt has donated hundreds of gallons of blood and platelets. He started when he was 16, following in the footsteps of his father. Matt’s grandfather had required multiple transfusions when he underwent open-heart surgery, and it inspired Matt and his father to give back like those who had donated for their own loved one.
In July 2009, Matt stopped by CBCC’s Charlotte donation center. His last donation had been in January, and he realized he was past due. But this time, Matt was deferred from donating due to a low red cell count. Assuming it was a fluke, he came back one Saturday in early August to try again, but the results were the same.
Matt headed to the doctor on Monday to have blood drawn for testing. On his way back to his car, the nurse came running out after him. The doctor needed to see him again.
The blood test results showed Matt essentially had no red blood cells, no white blood cells and no platelets. The next day, he was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, a very rare, chronic blood cancer.
“In four short days, I had gone from being a faithful blood donor to a stunned blood cancer patient,” Matt said.
He enrolled in a clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland that combined two drug protocols. One of the two drugs, Rituxan, had been developed by researchers funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
As part of his treatment, Matt also received several doses of chemotherapy, which knocked out any remaining blood cell counts he had. That meant the lifelong blood donor needed multiple blood and platelet transfusions to replenish his own body while he underwent his treatment and recovery in Maryland and in Charlotte.
It was such a humbling experience, waiting on the blood and platelets to come up from the lab. Someone donated that blood, like I had so many times before."
“It was such a humbling experience, waiting on the blood and platelets to come up from the lab,” Matt said. “Someone donated that blood, like I had so many times before.”
The trial and treatments worked. Matt was in complete remission in 30 days.
Matt says he was lucky to have been diagnosed relatively early and at a relatively young age. He was lucky to have so much support from his wife and their two sons. He was lucky to receive the treatment that he did.
Matt became involved with LLS about a year after his diagnoses. In the six years since, he has run seven marathons and 21 half marathons to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. After raising $150,000 in 10 weeks, he was named the LLS Man of Year in 2016. He is also president of the board of trustees for their Charlotte chapter.
Because his condition is chronic, Matt will never be declared cured, but his twice-yearly checkups continue to come back clean. And though his career as a blood donor is over, his new mission to give back and support LLS as they work to end cancer is in full swing.
Matt said it is incredibly powerful having experienced both sides of blood donation.
“It means so much to patients in need,” he said. “There is no greater gift.”