This Hits Different, Episode 72: Duquesne football player donates bone marrow to cancer patient

Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Duquesne football player Ayden Garnes

In today’s episode of This Hits Different, Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Duquesne football player Ayden Garnes, who donated bone marrow to help those fighting cancer.

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For the last 13 years, the Duquesne University football program has spearheaded a bone marrow drive on campus, players registering themselves to be potential donors with a quick swab, and asking students to do the same.

Defensive coordinator Mike Craig helped get the program off the ground.

“I can understand people being hesitant, I can understand people being concerned,” Craig says.

Since the Be the Match program started on campus, they've registered 4,900 people as potential donors, and 24 people have actually completed the process.

A football player himself had never donated...until now.

“When I first got it, I didn’t know if it was real,” says Ayden Garnes.

Garnes is a redshirt freshman defensive back from Philadelphia. When he got word that he was a match for someone in need of bone marrow, his first phone calls were to his family, then to Coach Craig.

“We talked for a little bit just about some things, and he said, ‘yeah, you’ll make the right decision,’” Garnes adds.

“It’s a small price to pay for such a reward,” Craig says. "I’m a cancer survivor. I know what families go through. It’s a long and daunting process. It seems like there’s no end in sight.”

Ayden said yes, motivated by a desire to help another family and his own experience seeing the toll cancer takes.

“Cancer almost took my grandma, and now she has another chance at life,” he says. “I know how families feel when they have a family member who is in the hospital 24/7, in and out care, doing different things, having a bald head because all of their hair fell out. I know how that feels. I wouldn’t want that for another family.”

He had the procedure just a few weeks ago in Boston. Coach Craig saying that was the moment he understood the true impact of their decade-long impact, and Ayden's sacrifice.

“We were sitting there and the doctor said, ‘you know, the procedure is probably already done for the patient,’ Craig says. “That’s when it really hit me.”

And for Ayden, the time away from football and lingering pain, all worth it to give a perfect stranger another chance.

“I really had the chance to do something many people can’t say they did,” he says. “That really inspired me. I think of life so differently now. That helped me a lot.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Duquesne