When potential bone marrow donors sign up for a global registry the first question they are asked is: Are you willing to save someone’s life?
Now, retired FDNY firefighter and 9/11 first responder Brian Kevan is hoping someone may be the match to save his own life.
Kevan, 52, of Bethpage, who spent four months searching the rubble at Ground Zero, was diagnosed with lymphoma and is in need of a bone-marrow transplant to survive. He has battled cancer for the past two years and despite going into remission with chemotherapy, is still fighting the disease.
Now fire departments around New York, from Islip to Yonkers, are holding donation drives to test potential donors with the "Be the Match" campaign.
Kevan waited with his family at the East Northport Fire Department where residents, firefighters and paramedics walked in to get their cheeks swabbed to test if they were a potential match as a donor.
"Beyond me, any of the 200 people who showed up to these events could save a life down the road and be the match for someone else," Kevan said. "You hear stories of other people finding a match after several years. Mine has been a short search and a lot of people have been searching a lot longer than me."
Kevan was forced to retire because of his cancer diagnosis and is in need of a stem cell transplant. Donation drives were held this month in Bethpage and Commack. Additional donation drives are planned Monday at the West Islip Fire Department, along with events in Fort Totten in Queens, Brooklyn and Yonkers this week. His family is also hosting a match drive in Las Vegas.
Donors have to be in good health between the ages of 18 and 40. Anyone interested in donating can text FDNYBrian to 61474 to register and answer a health screening to request a swab to be mailed and returned to the donor database.
"The waiting is really difficult and keeping a brave face is difficult," his sister Michelle Mondello of the Bronx said. "Every time we thought he beat it, then we got a phone call he hasn’t beat it. It has been crippling. The waiting is hard, but we have to have faith."
Kevan said he was touched by the outpouring of support of potential donors and said a bone marrow treatment is the best option for treatment right now. He said he feels grateful for a chance of life while remembering the 343 firefighters lost on 9/11 and first responders still battling illness.
"I don’t let the dark in and try to stay positive," he said. "I got 20 years more than the 343 guys that didn’t go home that day. I know what I’m searching for, but it’s nothing compared to the hundreds since that have given their lives."