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Durham, N.H.— Most talented athletes reach the pinnacle of their careers in college, so it makes sense that they would treasure that time spent competing and do anything to keep it going as long as possible.
But the shot-put star from University of New Hampshire track and field team courageously gave up his sports career to save a stranger's life.
Cameron Lyle was the only bone marrow match on the national list of potential donors for a young man in desperate need of donated marrow. He was also at the beginning of his senior year track season and if he donated, he would not be able finish out his senior season.
So Lyle had a big decision to make — save a man's life or finish his college sports career. He says the decision was easy.
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.
"I was surprised, I was pretty happy. I said yes right away," Lyle, 21, told Today. "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."
Lyle had signed up for the Be the Match national registry when they were at his school two years earlier. He didn't think he'd ever get the chance to help someone since only 1 in 540 people who register go on to donate.
He was contacted by the registry about two months ago. Lyle was a possible match for a young man with a rare form of blood cancer who needed to be treated quickly. Lyle had some blood tests done that confirmed he was an exact match— the only one out of 9 million donors on the registry list.
"When they first told me, I was like, 'OK, cool. I'm definitely going to do it,'" Lyle told ABC News. "After that I kind of went to tell my coach and then I realized slowly that my season was over."
Lyle says he was nervous about telling his coach of four years, Jim Boulanger, that he couldn't compete in the national championships in May. But Boulanger was completely supportive of Lyle.
"Here's the deal," Boulanger said to Lyle. "You go to the conference and take 12 throws or you could give a man three or four more years of life. I don't think there's a big question here. This is not a moral dilemma. There's only one answer."
The young man with leukemia needed the marrow immediately, so Lyle could not compete in the America East Conference championship track meet he had been training so long for, culminating in the end of his 8-year long shot put career.
"They gave me a pretty strict deadline because my recipient needed it pretty fast," he said.
A few weeks ago, Lyle headed to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to give his marrow to a stranger in need.
- Join the Be The Match Registry – Take the first step to become a bone marrow donor
- Give a financial contribution – Make transplants a reality for patients.
- Stay in touch — Sign up for e-mail on how you can help.
- Host a donor registry drive – Individuals and families can make a difference.
- Donate umbilical cord blood at your baby's birth.
A donor can give marrow in two ways— PBSC donors give marrow through their blood and the donor can be in and out of the hospital in a day. Marrow donation requires surgery where a hollow needle goes into the hip bone to extract bone marrow, and the leukemia patient's doctor decided that surgery was the best way to get the marrow from Kyle.
Two hours and two liters full of marrow later, Lyle was done. According to the National Marrow Donor Program website, it can take up to three weeks for a donor to recover from surgery. The bone marrow regenerates in two weeks.
"This is just an incredible, incredible story of what Cameron has been willing to do," said Dr. Jeffrey Chell, CEO of the National Marrow Donor Program.
Lyle doesn't know yet if his donation worked. It will take 30 days for tests to show if the donated marrow has helped the Leukemia patient. Lyle says that no matter the outcome, he is glad he did it.
"It was worth it," he said. "I would do it again, too."
Lyle will continue his recovery while watching his teammates compete the championships this month.
The donor recipient has to remain anonymous for at least a year, but then Lyle can sign a consent form to release his information. Lyle says he hopes to meet him someday.
"I really want to meet him," Lyle said. "And I hope he wants to meet me."