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FDNY Angels: Bone marrow donors hailed - Thoughtful city smoke-eaters save two lives

Emotion filled the lobby of Fire Department headquarters in downtown Brooklyn as 18-year-old Samantha Alcazar and 65-year-old John Deeney met their bone marrow donors for the first time. A special ceremony was held in the FDNY headquarters lobby, 9 Metrotech Center, to honor lifesaving bone marrow contributions by over 80 FDNY firefighters. “I’m very happy and very nervous. When they told me it was him in the back, I thought he would be a little bit older,” said Alcazar. Alcazar’s heartened smile can easily hide the years of suffering she endured beginning at six years old in Guadalajara, Mexico, when she got salmonella – a type of food poisoning – and had to go to the doctor. They discovered that her platelet count was low and after visiting specialists, her spleen was removed, and she was told that this would cure her. However, when Alcazar was 10 years old – after moving to San Antonio with her mother – she began having headaches and severe nosebleeds, landing her once again in the hospital. She was diagnosed with Fanconi’s Anemia. Her only hope was a bone marrow transplant. After months of exhaustive waiting, hope came in the form of FDNY firefighter Stephen Duffy. Faced with a painful transplant operation, on January 22, 2004 Duffy donated his bone marrow to Alcazar, saving her life. “[The procedure] is moderately painful, but you don’t remember the pain. You remember how great she looks. The pain goes away,” said Duffy. John Deeney, a 32-year-old professor at Delaware State University, was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in 1999. He was told he had about five years to live. After two clinical trials, doctors told Deeney that there was no more they could do. His only chance left was a bone marrow transplant. Over the next several months donor after donor would yield no results until firefighter Robert O’Neill was tested in 2004, and found to be a match. Describing the procedure, O’Neill said, “It was a little painful. It wasn’t horribly painful. It took me three or four weeks to recover, but I’m happy that it happened.” Both Duffy and O’Neill, along with eight others were inducted into the “Honor Roll of Life,” represented by a mahogany plaque bearing the names of FDNY bone marrow donors. Also honored was FDNY Captain William P. Connolly, who is one of 16 firefighters on the Blood Center’s bone marrow donor registry who has donated to more than one patient. In fact, Connolly is one of 18 out of the 10 million registrants on the world-wide bone marrow registry to have given on three separate occasions to three unique recipients, including a teenager in 2000 and an infant this past summer. “I’ve always believed that the definition of a great nation is good people. And more good people than ever have stood up and given quite literally of themselves so that others can live,” said Howard Milstein, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the New York Blood Center (NYBC). “I know the crucial role of our blood center and the fire department. Both are essential to our city. Both save thousands of lives each year,” he added. Connoly’s first recipient, Nancy Johnson, presented him with the NYBC’s first ever “Kwalwasser Award.” The award is named after Mark Kwalwasser of the FDNY, who is responsible for signing up thousands of firefighters for the marrow program, after his sister, Elaine Diedrich, died when a suitable marrow donor could not be found. “There are so many people who cannot find a match, and when you find out you have a match it’s very rewarding,” said Deeney, who is going back to the hospital for another checkup in February. “A lot of firemen go their whole career and never actually save someone’s life. At least I can say that I definitely helped somebody out. That’s what it’s about. I would tell anybody to do it,” said O’Neill, who said he can’t wait to do it again. For more information on bone marrow contributions or to become a donor call 212-838-3029, or visit www.bonemarrow.org.

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