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ValueSpeak: Strength to the marrow

Published: Friday, May 3 2013 5:20 p.m. MDT

A few weeks ago, Cameron Lyle of the University of New Hampshire track team got a call from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. They wanted to know if this was the Cameron Lyle who had signed up as a bone marrow donor two years ago. Cameron had almost forgotten that he had done that during his sophomore year. The hospital told him about a 28-year-old leukemia patient who had fewer than six months to live unless a suitable bone marrow match could be found — and Cameron was a perfect match.

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By any measure, Cameron Lyle is a strong man.

Really strong. Certifiably strong. Lift-the-back-end-of-a-Volkswagen-by-himself strong.

You know … strong.

Cameron is on the track team at the University of New Hampshire. He’s not one of those sleek sprinters or wispy distance runners. No, sir. He’s a weight man. For four years he’s been throwing 16-pound shot puts, 16-pound hammers and five-pound discuses (discusi?) for the Wildcats, and he’s pretty good at it. As a senior, he was looking forward to the last few weeks of the season as the last chance to really show his strength.

And he did. Just not at the conference championships.

A few weeks ago, he got a call from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. They wanted to know if this was the Cameron Lyle who had signed up as a bone marrow donor two years ago. Cameron had almost forgotten that he had done that during his sophomore year. The hospital told him about a 28-year-old leukemia patient who had fewer than six months to live unless a suitable bone marrow match could be found — and Cameron was a perfect match.

The hospital wanted to know: Will you honor your commitment to be a bone marrow donor? And will you do it immediately?

For Cameron, it was a no-brainer.

“I said yes right away,” he said recently on the “Today” show. “And then afterwards I thought about everything that that meant giving up. But I never had a second thought about donating. If I had said no, he wouldn’t have had a match.”

“He” is someone who is still unknown to Cameron. Legally, the donation is to be completely anonymous. The two men can’t meet for at least a year. But that didn’t deter someone of Cameron’s unique strength. Last weekend, he reported to Mass General for the two-hour procedure during which – WARNING! NOT FOR WEAK OF STOMACH! — a long, sturdy needle is inserted into his hip bone and two liters (think of a two-liter bottle of soda) of marrow was extracted from him and immediately given to the as-yet anonymous recipient.

The doctors aren’t allowed to tell us how the recipient is doing — at least, not yet. But it’s likely that Cameron saved his life — for a few years, anyway. Meanwhile, Cameron is doing fine. The only thing is, for the next few weeks he can’t lift and throw heavy objects — the very things required by his athletic specialty. It’s like a basketball player not being able to run and jump, a football player not being able to hit and be hit, a baseball player not being able to scratch and spit, a hockey player not being able to skate and fight.

So Cameron’s collegiate track and field career is over because he chose to honor his commitment to be a bone marrow donor for a complete and total stranger.

“It was worth it,” is all Cameron has to say on the subject.

His mother, Christine Sciacca, won’t let it go at that.

“He’s my hero,” she said.

And who can blame her? In a day in which on-the-field sports heroes often make more headlines for their off-the-field antics than for their game-saving feats of courage and skill, Cameron Lyle is the real deal: an athlete and a bona fide, life-saving hero.

And, like all true heroes, Cameron doesn’t think what he did was a big deal. In fact, he says, “I would do it again.”

See what I mean? The kid is strong.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.

EMAIL: jwalker@deseretnews.com

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