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A random act of kindness 18 years in the making

February 14, 2014

By Mark Stevens, PGA TOUR Staff

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif.- For Nancy Haag, the story of her random act of kindness began in 1995. She was in her early thirties living in Rhode Island when she acted on an impulse to join a bone marrow registry hosted by Connecticut-based Be The Match at a community fair.

In the years that followed, with a husband in the U.S. Navy, Nancy worked hard to raise her family of six children.

You could imagine what she was thinking in August 2012 when she received a call stating that she was a possible match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant.

By this time, Nancy was a preschool teacher in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The call came the week that her eldest daughter was getting married. In the midst of one of the most treasured times in a parent’s life, Nancy paused to give updated blood samples that would confirm her status as a match.

Nancy was always on the anemic side and was turned down when she tried to give plasma just months before receiving the call from the bone marrow registry. After being turned down she began taking iron supplements. Little did she know her actions were about to save someone’s life.

As Nancy was joining the bone marrow registry that fateful day in 1995 in Rhode Island, Ben Teller was a normal six-year old growing up on the other side of the country in Burbank, Calif.

Fast forward to 2007, the year Ben learned that he had Hodgkin Lymphoma. His life changed immediately. Instead of traveling to college with his friends, he was making daily trips to hospitals for cancer treatment.

Admittedly, he felt the first round of treatments was not that bad. He did not even lose his hair. But the cancer returned in 2010. This time, Ben needed a bone marrow transplant, which required that he find a new doctor. He and his family embarked on an exhausting and overwhelming search for the right hospital to provide his treatment.

“By the time we walked through the doors of City of Hope, we were exhausted,” said Ben. “From the moment I entered the doors of City of Hope, I felt like a person again.”

Ben formed an immediate relationship with Dr. Stephen Forman who would oversee his treatment.

“Discussions about my diagnosis and the cancer treatments were overwhelming,” said Ben. “Somehow, Dr. Forman made cancer feel like the smallest part of the conversation.”

The second round of treatment was much more intense than the first after a large mass was found in his chest. Ben lost his hair within five days of beginning the treatment. He spent weeks on end confined to his hospital bed.

On October 11, 2012, Nancy flew to Denver where her stem cells where harvested and flown to City of Hope in Los Angeles. The following week Nancy was back at school teaching.

On April 29, 2013, Ben was declared cancer-free thanks to the bone marrow provided by Nancy.

Donors and recipients almost never meet except under special circumstances. This was one of those special circumstances as Nancy and Ben met for the first time on January 1, 2014, at the 125th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

“It was such an amazing experience,” said Ben about the meeting. “It was an overwhelming amount of emotion.”

Since meeting, Ben tries to talk to Nancy as much as he can. “I’m not sure if it is the DNA or blood, but we have a great connection.”

On their website, Be The Match promotes that 70 percent of all patients who need a transplant don’t have a matched donor in their family. Although the percentages of finding a match are improving all the time, Ben explained that his first donor match fell through for some reason.

“It was absolutely fate that brought Nancy and I together,” said Ben. “She was brought into my life for a reason.”

Throughout his fight, Ben was able to earn his business economics degree from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, he is following his passion by working as a Production Assistant at FOX Sports in Los Angeles. His work on the FOX Football Daily Show recently took him to New York City where he worked at the Super Bowl.

When asked what he learned about himself throughout this journey, Ben paused, to the point where I thought our cell phone connection was lost. It was obvious that it was hard to put his experiences into words.

“I learned how strong I am,” he eventually replied. “Strength you did not know you even had.”

Ben then detailed the importance of all his family and friends that you rely on for almost everything while going through treatment.

“At my age, it was a very hard thing to have to rely on so many people,” he said. “A lot of things were out of my control.”

He paused again slightly before describing how each and every person at City of Hope was so important in his recovery.

“I learned that people can step up in the most amazing ways,” he added. “I had never seen so many people perform so many random acts of kindness. Someday I would love to be able to be that person that can step up and help others.”

As the official charity of the Northern Trust Open, City of Hope joins Northern Trust and the PGA TOUR to bring hope to even more people facing life-threatening illness. The North Trust Open’s partnership with City of Hope will help them accelerate their medical and scientific discoveries that create longer and healthier lives for people everywhere.

City of Hope was one of the first medical centers in the nation to perform a successful bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Since then, City of Hope has remained a leader in the field — home to one of the world’s largest and most successful transplant programs.

Stop by City of Hope’s tent this week at The Riviera Country Club at the Northern Trust Open between The Grove and the 14th tee and you can help save a life by joining the bone marrow donor registry. Requiring just a quick swab of the inside of your cheek, it’s fast, easy and completely painless. You can also test your skills at the Birdies for Hope Putting Challenge for a chance to win prizes and an opportunity to meet City of Hope’s golf ambassador, LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member, Amy Alcott.

You can also become a “Citizen of Hope” by creating a badge reflecting your own personal message of hope and inspiration. Take a photo with your “Citizens” badge and show your support of City of Hope’s lifesaving research and treatments.

“Giving a life or saving a life would be the most rewarding thing,” said Ben. “I have friends that have donated bone marrow and it has forever changed their lives for the better. Signing up is so easy to do –and you can save someone’s life.”

To learn how you can join the Bone Marrow Registry, please visit BeTheMatch.org.

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