Student-Athlete Long ’14 Misses Game to Donate Bone Marrow

Brian KattenOctober 22, 20124min
Matt Long '14 is a tight end on Wesleyan's Football Team.
Matt Long ’14 is a tight end on Wesleyan’s Football Team.

Matt Long ’14 a tight end on Wesleyan’s Football Team, hopes to make a new friend in about a year. Why would a 6-foot 5-inch, 240 pound scholar-athlete at a prestigious college like Wesleyan who was named an academic all-NESCAC choice in 2011 need to wait 12 months to make a new acquaintance? One very special reason.

This past spring, Long, of Williston, Vt., was coaxed by a schoolmate to enlist in a bone marrow donor program during a drive on campus. It was sponsored by DKMS, the world’s largest bone marrow donor program. Thus, Matt was on a donor matching list after a cheek swab. The general consensus is that any individual donor has less than a one percent chance of being called upon to donate. When is does happen, it could be years after the potential donor is first in the system. For Long, the wait was about four months.

“In late August, just before the start of camp [preseason football training], I received an urgent overnight letter,” Long explains. It said that he was a preliminary match for an anonymous patient. Matt was tested further in his home area and things looked promising.

Shortly thereafter, Long was transported to Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., for more testing, and he was found to be at least a 99 percent match for a patient in need of treatment. “I know three things about him – he’s in his 30s, he lives somewhere in the Midwest and his illness is some form of cancer,” Long says.

Needless to say, the prime time for a college football player to be asked to donate bone marrow is not October, but duty called. Long was on the line Oct. 6, helping block a 20-yard field goal at Colby College in a 31-28 Wesleyan victory, and the next day he was receiving shots from a local medical service in Middletown to prepare him for his donation. The injections are used to stimulate bone marrow production; they leave the soon-to-be donor weak and drained physically. Not the kind of condition a football player prefers. The injections continued for five days and Long was once again transported to Georgetown on Oct. 10. He underwent the five-hour procedure on Oct. 11 for removal of bone marrow.

“I wasn’t completely knocked out. I’d say I was in a semi-conscious state,” Long recalls.

Long wasn’t at Bates Saturday, Oct. 13 to witness the Cardinals’ exciting 24-22 victory in person, but was home in his campus room watching the webcast transmitted from Bates as his teammates hung on for the squad’s fourth win of the season in four starts. It was the first 4-0 record for Wesleyan since 1998.

In a year, Long will meet the bone marrow recipient. “I guess I’d say [to him] I’m really glad he’s feeling all right and maybe that I know he would have done the same for me if I was in his condition. It’s kinda like karma, like it was meant to be.”