Just before he returned to University City for football camp, Sam Philippi got a call. He was a match.
Only a few months removed from joining the Be the Match registry, Philippi was needed as a bone marrow donor for a 30-year-old leukemia patient. It was a whirlwind turn of events for the Penn football sophomore — he had been signing up students for the registry as part of a drive the team was running and decided last minute to sign up himself.
“When they tell you this guy could die without this procedure, it’s quite an emotional load to take in,” Philippi admitted. “It’s pretty heavy, it hits you hard — it’s bigger than you, everything’s bigger than you.”
It’s not uncommon for potential donors to spend decades on the registry without becoming a match. For Philippi, it was less than six months.
The process for bone marrow donation is an extended one. When a patient is diagnosed with leukemia, they are sized up for initial matches from the registry. From there, a pool of potential donors is compiled for further testing. The pool is steadily whittled down until one or two perfect or near-perfect matches remain.
“I didn’t have an option,” Philippi said. “This is someone’s life you’re talking about.”
Even with all of that, there isn’t necessarily a marrow transplant. The matches are determined as an initial fact-finding procedure as the doctor and patient weigh treatment options.
In Philippi’s case, the transplant has been deemed necessary. The operation is set to take place in early December, well after the conclusion of the Quakers’ season — but before the end of finals.
“It truly puts into perspective, our whole mission as coaches, teachers — what we’re able to do and, obviously, him being willing to do it on top of it,” Penn head coach Ray Priore said. “I think all of our guys understand their responsibility to make a difference and he’s done a phenomenal job of it.”
As part of the operation, Philippi will receive stem cell injections to boost his white blood cell count prior to the actual procedure. Once the bone marrow is removed — a relatively non-invasive procedure — the main aftereffects for Philippi will be prolonged fatigue and aching, for a few days or maybe a week.
An interesting, though non-vital, aside is the fact that Philippi is allergic to peanuts. As a result of the operation, doctors have told him, there’s actually a chance the recipient will develop an allergy himself.
“There was a movie called ‘Highlander’: ‘There can only be one,’” said Malik Hall, the Penn assistant coach who helps run the Be the Match drive. “That’s that moment. At the end of the day, every person who is involved understands it, and they want to take full advantage of it.
“It’s just a beautiful thing tosee it work itself out.”
Young men between ages 18-24 are the ideal bone marrow donors. To learn more and to join the Be The Match Registry, visit BeTheGuy.org.