Blood Stem Cell Donation Brings Two Cubs Fans Together Just in Time
Advocacy For Josh, Stephanie and their beloved Chicago Cubs, 2016 was the year to believe in the unexpected. Here’s how one improbable marrow transplant, brought all of them together.
In the fall of 2014 31-year-old Chicago native Josh Byrd found himself face to face with his own mortality. Josh had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and was given a grim prognosis: without a bone marrow transplant his likelihood of beating the diseases was slim to none.
Getting an answer
Incredibly, Josh found a matching, unrelated donor almost immediately after the search began. After aggressive chemotherapy treatment, he received his lifesaving transplant. The new cells grafted successfully and, over the next year, as Josh started his road to recovery, he and his anonymous donor began writing letters to one another. They began to learn more about each other, from the similarities of their big families to their shared love of “Dr. Who.” One thing became overwhelmingly clear: both Josh and his anonymous donor were huge Chicago Cubs fans.
That pen-pal-donor’s two small children, Addison and John Banks, were even named in honor of the Cubs — after the street Wrigley Field is on, and Ernie Banks, respectively. As Josh returned to his day-to-day activities and neared the one-year post-transplant mark, the big question remained: Who were they?
Where it began
35-year-old Stephanie Newton, a publicist, wife and mother of two from Brentwood, TN, registered as a donor at a networking event in New York City back in August, 2010. She felt it was the right thing to do, despite the low odds of her being called to donate.
“I knew it was a long shot, but I knew I'd be there if I was needed,” recalls Stephanie. Four years later in the fall of 2014 Stephanie received a call informing her she was a match, ultimately doing a peripheral blood stem cell donation for Josh in mid-February 2015.
“Local nurses had to work around extreme weather that ended up causing two flight cancelations and a last-minute change in donation location.”
Her donation itself was a Herculean task, as local nurses had to work around extreme weather that ended up causing two flight cancelations and a last-minute change in donation location. In the end, what began as an altruistic whim for Stephanie, ended with Josh’s life being saved. The only thing left for the two was to finally meet each other face to face.
On Saturday, July 16th, as the Cubs prepared to take on the Rangers in a day game DKMS and the Chicago Cubs hosted Stephanie and Josh at Wrigley field for their first meeting. As if the moment was not incredible enough for the pair of life-long fans, after their meeting both Josh and Stephanie were escorted out onto the historic field together to take part in the line-up exchange with the umpires. The PA announcers told Josh and Stephanie’s story to a cheering crowd and encouraged fans to register as donors themselves.
From strangers to teammates
As the two stood soaking up the experience, the dream day seemed to continue to unfold. Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur, who donated bone marrow to a Ukrainian girl in 2009, came out to meet them and talk about their donation experience and Josh’s recovery. When the game began and the pair returned to reality, they sat next to each other in the stands, surrounded by family and friends, watching the Cubs go on to beat the Rangers.
A year ago, the two had been perfect strangers, yet now they sat side-by-side, an inseparable bond formed by DNA, fortuitous timing and a deep love for the perennial underdog team. Both understood that even seemingly impossible odds can still be surmounted.