Lancaster – When Sarah Secoy of Lancaster was just six years old, the odds were against her. She was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. She was supposed to die. But today, she's at Ohio University Lancaster pursuing a degree and encouraging her fellow students to save a life.
"I needed a bone marrow transplant," said Secoy. "It took a year to find a match, so I was seven years old when I had the bone marrow transplant. That was 19 years ago as of March 4."
A bone marrow registration drive is being held at Ohio University Lancaster on March 20. Students from the Human Services Technology program are putting on the drive. Secoy is telling her story to let other students know how important it is to become part of the bone marrow registry.
"I know that it's hard to find a match once you don't find a match in your family," said Secoy. "The chances could be up to one in a million to find a match outside of your family."
Secoy's bone marrow match was a 23-year-old man she had never met. Ken Montville lived in Rhode Island and ended up on the bone marrow registry by chance.
"I was working full time at a local hospital, and they do routine blood drives every eight weeks or so," said Montville. "I went to a blood drive, and the local rotary was sponsoring a bone marrow drive.I was approached, and they asked to take a couple of extra vials of blood to be included in the bone marrow registry. They were already stabbing me, so I let them take the extra vials."
About six months later, Montville got the call that he was a potential match.
"Without hesitation I told them I would do whatever they needed me to do," said Montville. "All they would tell me was her age and her gender. They told me she was seven years old and she was a girl. I was committed from the beginning but that just made me more committed."
Montville said the process to have the bone marrow extracted was slightly uncomfortable, but he knew it was nothing compared to what Secoy was going through. She was fighting for her life.
"The process is that they take your immune system all the way down to nothing so your body doesn't reject the bone marrow. That's through chemotherapy and radiation," said Secoy. "It was scary, but I had a lot of support from my family, from my church, from my school and just the community in general."
At first, the donor and recipient information is kept confidential. But, after about two years, Secoy and Montville were able to exchange contact information.They stayed in touch via email, and eight years ago Montville came to Ohio from Rhode Island to meet Secoy.
"My wife and I decided to go meet Sarah and her parents," said Montville. "It was really emotional to finally meet them in person. It felt great knowing that I had played a role in helping save her life."
Secoy is now a junior at Ohio University Lancaster, and she is majoring in social work. Montville is a firefighter and is proud that she is going into a field where she can help other people. He said she's a wonderful example of why people should donate bone marrow.
The drive at the Lancaster Campus will be March 20 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be held in the North Lobby of Brasee Hall. Those interested in being placed on the registry need to bring some form of identification and will have to sign a waiver. After that, they will have their cheeks swabbed. The entire process takes about 10 minutes.
"It's definitely worth it because you could save someone's life," said Secoy. "I'm very grateful for Ken who did that for me."