I’ve been hearing about heroes in sports since approximately 1973. I’ve been writing and talking about sports since 1984 and every season a new “hero” comes along in every sport, in every city where championships are won and modern parades are held.
Today I will ask a pair of questions with some “deep thoughts” for the day:
What is a hero?
And what do you say to them when you finally meet one?
I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’m going to write (and say) about my wife meeting the man who has (twice) selflessly saved her life via the bone marrow registry.
We’ve also talked about it on the radio this week. The (then) 21-year old man in Germany who twice saved my wife’s life asked the (very Freudian) question two summers ago when he donated bone marrow to keep her alive.
If you haven’t read his letter to her from 24 months ago, please read it. I called it the greatest letter ever written and I’ll stand by that.
You’ve probably seen some aspect of the fight of Jennifer Ford Aparicio, whom I married 13 years ago on a beach in Jamaica.
You’re probably reading this because you’ve witnessed her courageous battle for her life.
Maybe you’ve seen a bald picture of her smiling? Or perhaps a picture of our beloved cat, Kitty, licking her face when she weighed 90 pounds? Maybe you’re a childhood friend of ours through Dundalk or Manchester, New Hampshire, or perhaps we’ve collected you on our journey in life.
Through two battles with leukemia, Jennifer Ford Aparicio has spent 153 nights in a hospital bed, surrounded by a ghetto in East Baltimore, wondering if she was going to see the next sunrise.
Vomit. Blood. Tears. Pain. Agony. Fear. Horrific hospital food. Incredibly brilliant doctors. Nurses with empathy and compassion that goes beyond words. And modern medicine that has miraculously kept her alive through two heinous battles.
My wife has stared down death on the absolute end of the plank and persevered. She is lucky. She is strong. She is brave. She is incredible. She is grateful.
I am simply a witness writing about the greatest “comeback” I can possibly imagine.
#JennStrong has been back to work as a network engineer for almost 90 days and fighting with her insurance company (I routinely call them “heartless, profiteering, corporate pieces of shit” but you can call them Met Life) for six months. She has been dealing with all kinds of fallout – physical, emotional, spiritual that I can’t even comprehend – from twice battling for her life over the past 30 months.
Here’s the current update:
Skin rashes. Tear ducts that no longer function and a scratched cornea. Bone fatigue. Weakness. Stiffness and pain in every joint. Lack of appetite. Lack of energy. Lack of life, even after surviving the battle for her life. She has napped every day since Sept. 30th of last year and still tries to find the energy she had before leukemia wiped out our normal quality of life and happiness in March 2014.
Meanwhile, her insurance has forced her back to working full time, even though her eyes haven’t fared as well as the rest of her body.
You notice how she looks.
She notices how she feels.
Some days are better than others. Folks say: “It’s good to see you.” She says: “It’s good to be seen.”
But this post-cancer recovery doesn’t ever seem to get any easier.
But, for one glorious weekend, this is a time of celebration and gratitude.
This story isn’t about her, but about him.
On Tuesday night, Jenn and I are flying to Frankfurt, Germany and on Wednesday afternoon, we’ll be two Americans eating Mongolian barbeque, watching soccer and drinking local bier with a 23-year old German man who selflessly, inexplicably and (then anonymously) saved my wife’s life on June 26, 2014 with a bag of bone marrow.
When her leukemia returned last September, he saved her life again on November 19, 2015 with another bag of blood – lymphocytes that were designed to bring on the graft vs. host disease that has made her so weak and frail in 2016.
Seriously…what do you say and how do you even comprehend such benevolence and generosity?
HE. SAVED. HER. LIFE.
They are now genetic twins – DNA and science will tell you they are literally relatives from halfway around the world who’ve never met. If she left her blood at a crime scene, it would be identical to his blood. His engine makes her blood and keeps her alive.
Well, on Wednesday we’ll be having lunch and we’re going to try to figure out how to say “thank you” for her life and his generosity.
Just think about that for a moment? What would you say? How could you possibly say it?
A hug? Some tears of life? Some embrace of eternal gratitude? A beer? Some schnitzel and black forest cake?
My wife has been to hell and back.
We found the man who saved her life on Facebook on the afternoon of June 30. He had no idea she was even alive. He has been extremely inquisitive. He speaks four languages, including English that’s better than most of my friends from Dundalk.
By now, he’s keenly aware of all aspects of her fight.
We don’t need to ask “why?”
We know why. He told us before we even knew him.
He saved her life because he could…
“I did this donation also out of deepest conviction. I didn’t do it because it’s highly regarded in society. No, I did this for you because I believe it is our assignment to help people when they need help the most.”
At the time, he was one of TWO people on earth who had the DNA match necessary to keep her breathing.
Now, we’re going to Germany to try to figure out the rest of the story. And how “angels” still exist.
I’ve been writing about “heroes” via sports for the last 32 years. I’ve been taking phone calls and chatting about sports “heroes” for 25 years.
Ray Lewis was a “hero” once. So was Joe Flacco. And Cal Ripken. And Brooks Robinson. And Johnny Unitas before that.
And blah, blah, blah…
The charity organization we’ve partnered with is called, There Goes My Hero – just like the Foo Fighters song. With your help, we’ve raised a bunch of money and awareness about leukemia and bone marrow transplants and the registry and asking you to take a lottery ticket on being a “hero.”
I think it’s appropriate David Bowie was inspired and wrote the song “Heroes” in Berlin, Germany.
We can be heroes just for one day…
On Wednesday when you’re having breakfast in Baltimore, I’ll get to finally meet a real hero in Bochum, Germany.
We’ll let you know how it goes…