Will Benjamin of Huntington on Sunday met the person who saved his life — a man who spoke a different language but shared the teen’s tastes in superheroes and video games.
In December 2013, Benjamin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a hard-to-treat cancer that would require him to receive a bone marrow transplant. After undergoing chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, Benjamin, now 17, received a transplant in April 2014 from a donor in Poland and made a full recovery.
But for two years, the Benjamin family didn’t know the identity of the person who saved Will’s life. The names of international donors are withheld from recipients for two years after the donation, according to a spokeswoman for DKMS, a blood cancer nonprofit.
“I couldn’t wait to speak with Will’s donor and thank him,” said Benjamin’s mother, Elizabeth Benjamin.
After coordinating with Sloan Kettering, she learned her son’s donor was 30-year-old Daniel Marzec, who, on a whim, decided to register as a bone marrow donor at a supermarket in Poland just six months before learning he was a match with Benjamin.
“My first motivation was to help someone,” Marzec said through a translator about his decision to donate. “It doesn’t cost me anything and the knowledge that I could save someone’s life was so uplifting.”
A few months ago, Benjamin’s mother connected with Marzec on Facebook and offered to pay for him and his family to meet her son at the fourth annual Whit Whit Walk, a 5K held Sunday at Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor to raise money and awareness for childhood cancer.
“It was really special,” Benjamin said. “To meet someone who basically saved your life is a pretty cool thing.”
Though Marzec doesn’t speak English, the two were able to communicate with help from a translator, learning that they’re both big Batman fans and enjoy playing video games.
“It’s weird, the similarities,” Marzec said.
Before the event, Benjamin addressed the 500 participants, who all wore blue shirts and held little pouches filled with ladybugs, to be released during the walk.
“About two and a half years ago, I received a donation from an extremely generous man who didn’t even live in the same country as me. He knew he may not be chosen as a match, but was willing and compassionate enough to donate his own cells knowing that there could be a chance that he could save someone’s life with it. And that person ended up being me,” Benjamin said to applause.