The humanitarian spirit of a club and its supporters is something that can differentiate good from great. Both the Fire and Section 8 Chicago have long found ways to give back to the community through various acts of charitable donation but more recently one Fire supporter gave more, in hopes of saving a life.
Looking back to December 2008 when former Fire midfielder Andy Williams’ wife Marcia was diagnosed with leukemia and in need of a bone marrow donor. Like more than a few clubs and supporters, Section 8 Chicago held a donation drive on a Friday night at Schuba’s Tavern, looking to show solidarity with a former player and his family during a difficult time.
Enter Flynn Murphy, a 28-year-old, red-headed wise-cracking, veteran of Section 8 Chicago.
“It was the end of a long week,” Murphy said. “I went out that night with the intention of meeting up with some friends of mine in Section 8 and having a beer with them, and I actually did not go out with the intention of signing up for the bone marrow database. In fact, I almost forgot it was happening that night.”
The setup that night was such that you had to pass the donation table in order to get up to the bar. A “donation table” in this sense is just a setup where those interested in donating have their cheek swabbed to test what marrow type they are.
“I initially tried to get around that table so that I could go get a beer,” continued Murphy. “But then Section 8 chairman Ben Burton stopped me, and said ‘get your cheek swabbed.’ I told him I didn’t really want to but he said it again a little more forcefully. So just so Ben would leave me alone, I did it.”
His sample entered in a national database, Murphy went on to enjoy the company of friends that night. Three years later, with Williams’ wife long before having found a match, he hadn’t thought at all about his donation.
“Out of the blue I got an overnight FedEx envelope with all sorts of medical documents and my phone started ringing off the hook with all these people calling from the National Marrow database saying that my marrow matched with someone who was in need of a transplant.”
Though most information in these cases is kept private, Murphy was told the patient in need was a girl aged between 10-14 with a rare, life threatening condition requiring a bone marrow transfusion. After a few other initial matches were ruled out due to further tests, it came down to Murphy.
Because of what was required in terms of more tests to verify a match (blood drawings, extensive medical exams) and a two-hour surgery which puts you under a general anesthesia, Murphy’s initial response was apprehensive.
“There was a lot of second guessing,” he explained. “I wasn’t really sure because of how long and taxing the process to donate bone marrow is. The surgery is fairly low risk, but you are voluntarily putting yourself through pain. They ultimately withdraw 6-8 cups of bone marrow from your system. I have to admit. If I’m being honest, my first inclination was to say no.”
Yet at every stage of the process, friends from Section 8 helped him overcome his initial fears.
More specifically he thought of Section 8 Chicago’s Brandon Kitchens, writer of the famous “Stand and Deliver” speech, who tragically passed away in July 2007.
“I’ve met so many great people in my life, a lot of who have become friends from watching the Fire together. Someone I was lucky enough to know was Brandon (pictured middle below). When I was contemplating all of this, I thought of him and how he left before it was his time to go and there were probably a lot of good things that he didn’t get a chance to do. We as a Section had talked about doing things to remember him. As scary as surgery is, I felt it was kind of my responsibility to do something good in honor of people who didn’t have the chance.”
In the end, Murphy went ahead with the surgery in January, which did prove painful as withdrawing marrow requires small incisions in the lower back region in order to extract the marrow from a donor’s hips. At the same time, the patient loses a significant amount of blood, but the bone marrow that’s just been extracted plays a role in generating new blood cells, so…
“You’re a little lightheaded for a while after that,” explained Murphy. “I don’t want to say too much to discourage potential donors, but with the incisions, it feels like a police horse kicked you in the back. It lives up to its reputation as being a painful procedure.”
Taking five days to recover, Murphy couldn’t move for a while and couldn’t walk until a few days later but the surgery was successful from the fact that they extracted the needed marrow.
Because of the privacy kept for both parties, Murphy doesn’t have any idea what the outcome of his donation was, perhaps making his act even more heroic.
“It’s still not clear if the procedure was successful from the standpoint of saving this girl’s life. Obviously I’m hoping for the best and hoping something good will come of this. I know that in order to get the marrow, a month before the surgery she had to take medication that would essentially kill all of the bone marrow in her system and would weaken her eventually. When you get down to that -- it’s a last option for a lot of people. I’m really hoping that it worked, but I don’t know.”
After a waiting period, Murphy is coming up on the time where he can request to know what happened with the procedure and the status of the young girl.
No matter the outcome, Murphy reiterated it was something he would do again and hailed the humanitarian spirit of Section 8 Chicago and support from friends for putting him in a position to give.
“It’s one of those things that if it had just been up to me, I would’ve gone out that night and had a beer. Instead because of the humanitarian spirit of the whole Section 8 organization, I was put in a place that made it pretty easy to sign up on this list, and the support from my friends gave the confidence to go through with it.”
For more information on how to become a bone marrow donor, please visit www.marrow.org.