UNH senior ends track career to make bone marrow donation
Cameron Lyle, a University of New Hampshire track and field athlete from Plaistow, looked forward to wrapping up his competitive career with his best results ever in the America East championships early next month.
Instead, Lyle is scheduled to be at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston Wednesday morning, intent on giving an ill young man he does not know a better chance to live. Lyle was due at the hospital at 6 a.m. for a procedure that will begin the process of donating his bone marrow.
Lyle passed on his final chances to compete after he was told about a month ago by a representative of the National Marrow Donor Program that he was a rare match for a 28-year-old who is stricken with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive cancer.
"My first reaction was 'yes,' when they told me on the phone," Lyle said Tuesday afternoon. "After that, I did think about what I was giving up. But the kid who has leukemia has it a lot worse than me. This kid is dying."
There is little time to waste, and there was no chance to squeeze in the championship meet.
"I tried to put it back, but the timetable is pretty strict," Lyle said. "(The marrow recipient) needs it now."
Lyle is not allowed to know the identity of the man, nor is the recipient allowed to know the name of his donor.
"I can leave a note when I leave the hospital, but I can't sign my name," Lyle said.
He wants to meet the recipient some day. After a year, donor and recipient can sign consent releases if they wish to find out each other's identity.
On Tuesday, Lyle and the UNH athletics department were being deluged with calls and emails from media outlets.
"It kind of got out of control; it's kind of sprawling with the internet," Lyle said.
"He came in and said, 'I didn't do it for the attention, coach,'" said Jim Boulanger, the director of UNH's running and track and field programs.
The other part of the good news is that Lyle's match gives him and others the chance to publicize the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) and its registry of potential donors.
Sean McDonnell's UNH football team has sponsored four bone marrow testing drives as part of the NMDP's Be the Match Registry over the last few years. The test is a simple cheek swab, with no blood or needles involved.
"You meet kids along the way who have a special understanding of what this is, and he does," McDonnell said of Lyle's participation. "He's sacrificing a lot during his senior year, and it's something special."
McDonnell also credited Andy Talley, the longtime coach at Villanova, who was instrumental in getting a number of football-playing schools in the Northeast involved in the bone marrow testing drives.
Catie Perrella, a UNH track athlete out of Bishop Guertin High of Nashua, was a match a couple of years ago. Lyle was tested during one of the UNH drives when he was a sophomore.
"It's a great thing," he said of his match. "They said the odds are like (one in) 4 to 5 million for a non-family member to match. I forgot I was in the registry."
Until he got the call. Since then, he's had all sorts of tests about every week. He underwent a full physical and chest X-rays and had to donate his own blood, which will be given back to him.
He won't be able to lift more than 20 pounds for three to four weeks.
"That put track off the table," said Lyle, a business management major who competed in track and field at Timberlane Regional High in Plaistow before UNH.
A thrower on the track team, he finished second in the shot put on Saturday at Stony Brook in what became his final meet.
"Most of the team got around the throwing ring and was cheering him on," Boulanger said.
"They gave me a good send-off," Lyle said. "Everybody came over. That's when it really hit me: This was the end of eight years of throwing."
He plans to be at the America East championships at Binghamton University on May 4 and 5 as a spectator.