In both my professional life and personal life, I have had a very special privilege. I have had the opportunity to save someone's life.
As a skydiving instructor, I get to be a part of what many people describe as the most exciting and scary moment in their life. I can feel the nervous energy of my students, and it's my job to turn fear into excitement. I'm a perfect stranger who walks up to my student, and suddenly becomes the most important person in his life for the next 20 minutes. It's thrilling to not only be able to share my passion for such an incredible sport, but to be the catalyst of an experience that breathes new life into another. Landing from your first skydive gives the feeling of confidence, accomplishment, pride, and gratitude. How did I get so lucky to be the guy that gets to help make that happen?
I fly hundreds of people to the ground safely each year, but of all the lives I've had the opportunity to save, there is one that stands out most. And it has nothing to do with a parachute.
In February 2012, a friend encouraged me to join the bone marrow donor registry list. I signed up with an organiztion called Be The Match®. At the time, I never expected to be called, and couldn't imagine what signing that piece of paper would mean for my future. Less than one year after joining, I was identified as a perfect match for a 49-year-old woman with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I did not know any other details about her, if she had children, where she lived, or even what her name was, but none of that mattered. I suddenly felt like a first time skydiving student again: nervous, excited, scared, unsure what to expect, but totally dedicated to doing something amazing. I realized I could be her cure, and that’s all I needed to know.
On November 6, 2012, I donated lifesaving cells. Sure, it was scary to undergo a medical procedure that was completely voluntary. But it occured to me - what are the chances that my body can create an ample amount of something that someone else needs to survive? A woman I didn't know needed me. I'm a perfect stranger who suddenly becomes the most important person in her life. How did I get so lucky to be the guy that gets to help make that happen?
See anything in common?
This spring, the patient and I had the opportunity to meet each other. It was a no brainer. I flew to her home town and met Dorothy and her family. We recognized each other right away, and shared the most special hug I've ever received. The connection I feel with this new family is indescribable. Meeting Dorothy’s husband and children and seeing what wonderful people they are concreted my belief that Be The Match® creates miracles.
That's why I'm hosting a Be The Match® Donor Registry Drive this weekend at Chicagoland Skydiving Center. I'm asking you to join me. Most healthy adults between ages 18 and 44 are eligible to register. There are no needles and no blood involved, just a simple cotton swab of the cheek and a signature. If you can't make it to CSC this weekend, kits are available by mail through BeTheMatch.org by using the promo code: SkydiveCSC.
When I reflect on this career path I've chosen in skydiving, it hit me: how many people never get the opportunity to make that memory. Every day, loving, kind, wonderful individuals like Dorothy are diagnosed with diseases that prevent them from living out their dreams. Though, through Be The Match, we can help fight these tragedies together. We can give people that otherwise may never be healthy enough the opportunity to check items, like skydiving, off their bucket list. I love skydiving for the smile it brings out in people, and I am happy to have joined a movement to bring that feeling to everybody. My hope is to someday be able to take Dorothy for a skydive.
Whether you're a skydiver, spectator, member of my community, or someone who stumbles on this story online, please consider joining the registry and supporting this important life saving organization. Learn more at BeTheMatch.org.