From University of Rochester Athletics
A moment of inspiration by a University of Rochester football player may help a complete stranger battle a deadly disease.
Nicholas "Nick" Balch, a senior from Wilmette, IL (New Trier HS), took part in the Be The Match® program at the University last spring. Be The Match® is a nonprofit organization that brings together potential donors of bone marrow and cord blood to help patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, and other life-threatening diseases.
In late January, he went to the University of Rochester Medical Center to donate bone marrow. That donation was shipped immediately to a patient for whom Balch has been told he is a "perfect match".
Statistics from the organization say one in 400 donors will be a match. The odds improve to one in 200 donors when athletes register. Participants remain in the data base as future donors if a match is found.
"If you hit the right criteria, they ask a laboratory to do a blood draw to see if you are a perfect match," Balch said.
Balch helped to organize the one-day drive on campus last April. Donors filled out paperwork – Balch included – and had the inside of their cheek swabbed.
A week after the Rochester football season ended in November, Balch was clearing snow from the stands so that an NCAA soccer tournament could be held. His cell phone rang three different times. He listened to the messages. The Be The Match® people were calling. His sample hit a lot of the bio markers. Be The Match® wanted a detailed medical history and a blood draw to see if it is the right match.
During winter break, he had blood tests at his home near Chicago. He returned to campus in mid-January and did a physical. That clinched it. He underwent five days of shots to help his bones produce more bone marrow cells before the donation was made.
The on-campus program was organized by the football coaching staff, led by head coach Chad Martinovich. "We did this during all of my years at MIT," Martinovich said. "We never had a perfect match."
Community service has always been important to the football program. For years, Yellowjacket players and coaches have worked with Camp Good Days and Special Times, a camp in the eastern suburbs for children battling cancer.
This was a natural transition for Balch. He is a biology major. In the summer following his sophomore year, he did an internship at Johns Hopkins University on pancreatic cancer research. His research work continued this past summer in Rochester when he worked on campus. He understands the terminology.
It was a busy, busy year. With a new football coaching staff in place last spring, Balch and his teammates adapted to the offensive philosophies of assistant coach Adam Griggs and Martinovich. "They wanted our experience and skills to help the younger guys to learn, to grow, and to improve," Balch said.
He played every position on the line – starting at center, but seeing time at guard and tackle, too. He was honored by both the University Athletic Association and the Liberty League with selection to their post-season all-star teams. In the season finale against Alfred, his work in the trenches was rewarded when the coaches put him in the backfield and he carried the ball three times for positive yardage. "It was a lot of fun," he said. This time, though, he was the one getting hit and not doing the hitting.
His donation went out immediately to a patient in need. It may take time to see if the patient can accept the bone marrow successfully. Maybe in the next few years, he will have an opportunity to meet his recipient.
"There are so many people who helped me to be here, that this is a way to help someone else in a similar way," he commented.