Springfield College senior wide receiver Phil Baier was getting ready to head home for Thanksgiving break this past November when he saw an email notification from Be The Match, an organization that the football team participated with in a bone marrow registry in the spring of 2012. Baier was accustomed to getting email updates from the organization, typically containing generic information thanking donors who were perfect matches for people who needed a bone marrow transplant. This time, however, the email was directed specifically to him
“I saw a Be The Match email and I [thought], ‘All right, well I’m just going to open it just so I can get the notification off my phone,’” Baier said. “I looked at it and I was just like, ‘Wait a minute…I was a match.’”
Baier’s preliminary match came after he decided to participate in the registry day at Springfield College last spring semester. He was already taking part in the day as part of a community effort by the SC football team by working it, but he also decided that he wanted to enter the registry.
The SC football team’s first ever Be The Match registry day was held in the Fieldhouse. Be The Match is a foundation operated by the nonprofit National Marrow Donor Program and “connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant.” It helps people with life-threatening blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, and has over 20.5 million donors and nearly 185,000 umbilical cord blood units. According to their website, they have facilitated over 55,000 transplants at a rate of around 5,800 per year.
SC football players were responsible for obtaining six commitments from people that would enter the registry. In all, around 190 people showed up at the event, which was chiefly organized by graduate student and fullbacks coach Travis Parisi.
“You literally have the opportunity to save a life, because [it is a] very rare match to find a bone marrow match, so the larger the registry the better the odds,” Parisi said.
Parisi organized the event after head coach Michael DeLong presented him with the opportunity. Parisi worked with Be The Match to successfully run the daylong registry.
In order to register, participants filled out paperwork and questions to verify that they did not possess any diseases or illnesses. Then, they got the inside of their cheeks swabbed in four different areas. Baier and his roommate, teammate and fellow senior wide receiver Mike Escalate, decided to enter the registry together.
Baier had to go through a second round of tests that involved blood work to see if he was a perfect match. All the while, his commitment never wavered.
“The matches are so rare, that why even join the registry if you want to get matched and then bail on the person?” Baier said. “I knew coming in that if I was a match I was definitely going to go through with it.”
Six weeks after taking the blood test, it was confirmed that Baier was the perfect match for a woman with leukemia. He does not know any more details about her because the information is kept confidential on both sides for safety purposes, but after around a year they will be given each other’s information.
This semester, Baier is working at the University of Southern California as a strength and conditioning intern. He works with a number of athletic teams, but his involvement with Be The Match forced him to be flexible.
“Over a two to three week span while I was doing my internship, I had to take half days off [of] work,” Baier said. “Luckily, USC was so nice about it. Everybody on the strength and conditioning staff was supportive of it.”
Baier was given injections starting Feb. 21 to boost his white blood cell count the week leading up to the procedure, which took place on Feb. 25 and 26 at UCLA Medical Center. Each day he spent approximately four to five hours hooked up to a machine that filtered around 20 liters of blood through a centrifuge and then returned it to his body. The process involved his peripheral blood stem cells.
Baier joked that Redbox sales increased as a result of his procedure, which physically drained him. More important than watching Pitch Perfect, Taken 2 and Flight, however, he followed through and made a difference.
“It’s amazing. I’m saving a life,” Baier remarked in humble awe. “One could say it’s bigger than anything I’ve ever done in my life.”
“It’s phenomenal and to be honest with you I couldn’t have picked somebody better to represent our program and the school,” Parisi added. “He’s just a real unsung hero.”
The SC football team will host their second annual Be The Match registry day on March 14 from 9-3 p.m. in the Richard B. Flynn Campus Union near the downstairs stage. The registry is open to anyone over 18 and younger than 60, and that person will be added to the registry for life (until they no longer meet the requirements). By being added to the registry, it gives more people in need a greater chance of finding that perfect match.
“It’s kind of hard to say no to something like that. You have the opportunity to swab your cheek and basically save someone’s life,” Parisi said.