“I had steroid injections at home for four days so I felt like absolute Michelin Man.”
“Then it’s just a matter of waiting, you know, its a lot of medication, and just waiting to see if the stem cells take. If the body handles them or rejects them.”
Greg, a New York City cop, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia 11 years after being covered in dust and debris at the World Trade Center attack in 2001. A forgotten moment from Sue 30 years prior was to be crucial if he was to survive.
Producer: Ryan Sweikert
Executive Producer: Bart Warshaw
Kismet team: Zoe Saunders & Danny Lewis
I had been a city cop for not too long and I was actually on vacation and my parents were having their electrical servers/service redone in the house so my father got a call on his cell phone said that a plane had hit the world trade center so we ran an extension cord to our neighbor’s house because we had no TV and then that’s when we saw what had happened
That is the world trade center and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a place has crashed…
Then, within probably, maybe a half hour they had recalled anybody that was home had to come in to work. It was pretty nerve wracking because I had a bunch of my friends are city cops and also city firemen so I wasn’t sure if they were down there at the time or most of the cell phones, there was so much cell phone congestion that I couldn’t get through so you didn’t really know what was going on. My precinct has the Brooklyn navy yard in it’s confines so they were going to set up a temporary morgue in the Brooklyn navy yard but as time went on there wasn’t too many bodies coming over so they sent us at 5 o’clock that night into relieve some of the police officers that had been there all day. We took a van over the Brooklyn bridge. Eight cops and one soldier. A lot of pedestrian traffic, a lot of people walking over because most of the mass transit was shut down. It was a pretty chaotic scene, a lot of first responders, a lot of people that worked in lower manhattan, a lot of dust, a lot of debris, a lot of people covered in white dust. It actually kind of looked like it had snowed, it was just so much dust and debris in the air.
July 2012, it was about two weeks after my son had been born, and I had scraped my leg pretty bad and fell and hit my head and during the day I didn’t feel good and I said: “You know what you got to take me to the emergency room I don’t feel well.” So I went to the emergency room that night and they did some blood work and when they came back they said that my blood levels were kind of all over the place and I was like: “well alright”. But a day or two later, the doctor came in and said that I could have a case of leukemia. My daughter was only three, my son was three weeks old at that time, so I was pretty nervous, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen.
I first signed up actually over thirty years ago and forgot about it. I got a call from the Anthony Nolan Trust and this chap just said: “Oh, hello, you’re on the donor register?” So I said yes I am. So he said: “I think we’ve found a match”.
Found a match.
The only thing that I knew is that she was a female in England.
That it was a male somewhere in the world.
That it was a full match.
We were ten out of ten. They had some donors that were good but weren’t 100% matches that actually to find somebody at the last minute that was a perfect match was, I was pretty ecstatic. By the time they get to a bone marrow donation that is their last chance.
It was definitely something I was going to need to stay alive.
I said instantly well yes of course, of course I am, I mean that’s the reason that you go on the register.
I started up more chemo obviously to get my body back into remission.
I went down to London and had a whole day full of tests.
Spent the night in the hospital in New Year’s Eve and then they started the pre-transplant chemo.
I had steroid injections at home for four days and so I felt like an absolute michelin man.
She went in and they harvested her stem cells, and as soon as they were harvested in England…
The courier was waiting downstairs, no pressure, to take it straight off to the airport.
They would put it on a plane that night, fly it on over to New York, and I got the bag of stem cells the next day and it was basically within 24 hours.
I thought absolutely heaps, thinking about him, sort of waiting for it to arrive, and that sort of thing, so yes he was constantly on my mind. It’s a funny thing because you know that you’re hopefully saving somebody’s life somewhere in the world, but you obviously don’t know who it its.
Then it’s just a matter of waiting, it’s a lot of medication and just waiting to see if the stem cells take, if the body handles them or if it rejects them.
You just pick up your life and carry on as you are, it’s a great feeling and you just hope and pray that it’s working.
I guess I was in there about a month, and everything, the stem cells started to take, everything looked good and they sent me home.
We’d exchanged cards
Kind of like a get well card like I said.
They had to be anonymous.
You’re not allowed to put any kind of hints of stuff that they don’t want you to know, some of the stuff they take and monitor and
Anything that they think might give anything away.
If the donor and the recipient want to have contact it’s usually after about a year.
Poor old thought after a year: “Oh great here we go, I can find out who’s donated to me.”
Her registry actually waits two years.
If anything is really going to go wrong, it will go wrong in the first two years so god willing that after two years, then I would be able to know who it was that I donated to.
So we had to wait two years to finally have some contact.
Right, well me being me, they gave each other’s email addresses to start with.
I check my emails and I was like: “Huh, what’s this?”
thought: “Oh right, oh gosh I’m going to email “, went on to his emails and and I’d beaten him to it.
And it was an email from her. So I sent her back an email and we made arrangements to have our first talk on the phone
You can imagine that was the most emotional phone call ever.
It was pretty emotional, definitely.
There was lots of tears from both sides.
She had a lot of questions for me, I had a lot of questions for her, it was a lot of
Questions about family
Where do you live, what do you do.
How he was getting on now, how he was feeling.
That kind of stuff… What she had to go through, what she’d been through.
Sort of what he’s been through with the treatment that he’d had.
And she had to go through a lot just to donate her stem cells for me so, she had to make a lot of sacrifices.
His background, he’s a police officer in 9/11 and all that. The fact that he’d been through all that and this is what he’d contracted because of it, it just made it extra special, it was the best christmas present ever. The cancer which is the Dell, how gosh, he’ll tell you what it is…
The Dell Monty Foundation
Once a year have a big dinner.
They contacted her and asked her if she wanted to come in for an annual dinner, she said yes.
I flew out from Heathrow, I’d never flown on my own, I’d never been to America.
She was adventurous, so…
They put me up in a hotel in Great Neck, the charity then organized for a car to take me over to the venue. I remember pulling up in the car and then thinking: “Oh my gosh, ‘s in that building!”
They had her in a separate room, they had me in a separate room.
I was dying to find him, actually! I was looking around to see if I could see, but he was tucked well away.
And then when it was time they brought us together. As soon as I walked in I gave her a hug.
It was pretty surreal.
Oh my gosh, cos he was in his uniform, so that was me, I was gone.
I didn’t really pay attention to everything else going around I just was kind of fixated on her.
We just dissolved in tears.
And I gave her a big hug.
Big big big hugs that went on for absolutely ages.
Talking to her, thanks for saving my life. It was…
You just feel so much, I don’t know if it’s love or if it’s like you feel you know them.
I was just excited to meet her and finally get the chance to thank her for everything she did for me and my family. We had some interviews and stuff to do, and that was a whirlwind but she was in for a couple for days so we actually got to hang out, we…
…went into New York, the day and we went to ground zero, we went to the museum.
It was the first time I had been to the museum, I had been down there a few times but never to the museum, it was pretty emotional but…
…but that was very surreal, especially when you’re with somebody who was obviously so involved with it, and unfortunately contracted this blood cancer as a direct result. He didn’t say a lot, we sort of walked around, and you sort of take it in, there’s the horror of it, and there’s the pictures of those who unfortunately died.
She got to see it and we got to walk through it together which was good. It definitely brings back a lot of memories, but you just move on.
Greg’s dad had organized a…
…big family dinner. I had all my family and friends get together so that everybody could meet her.
That was a very very emotional evening.
It was probably 50 of my family and friends, everybody kind of just came in and thanked her and wanted to meet her and talk to her.
His mum and dad said you’ve given us our son back, and then Christine would say thanks to you, our children will grow up knowing their dad, and I will have a husband, I’m so so grateful” and you feel so humble. But then of course then it came to the goodbyes.
The limo had come to pick her up and was taking her back to her hotel because she had an early flight and…
Saying goodbye to the family was just, heart-wrenching. And then right at the end it was just me and .
It was very emotional but…
We just stood there looking at each other and it was just, I don’t think we said an awful lot, but it was like, “this is a friendship for life now”
We’re gonna be in contact for the rest of our lives so I guess I’m here because of you, and she’s my hero, that’s what I tell her all the time. She doesn’t like to hear that but it’s the truth.
That’s all we said, really, in between the tears, I cried all the way back to the hotel, and I cried on the plane, at the airport, at JFK.
I talk to her at least, if not text message, once, twice a week, emails, and talk on the phone, so, she’ll probably be texting me in a little while to find out how this went.
We laugh because now he’s got my DNA so we are linked for life now, and he thinks he’s going to drink tea in the afternoon and that sort of thing.
She saved my life. She didn’t have to do what she did, it’s pretty amazing what she did.