We arrived at Overbrook Golf Club a little after four in the afternoon yesterday. The air was crisp and cool when I stepped out of the car. Wind whistled through the trees and blankets of snow covered the ground except for a carved out walkway leading up to the main entrance. It was a winter wonderland and the perfect scene for our dinner tonight.
Both Matt’s parents and my own followed us into the charming building, where we were greeted by Coach Talley and his staff. We all quickly exchanged pleasantries, before it was time to get to work. By work, I mean my parents, my in-laws and I exploring the room over freshly poured wine. Matt had items to sign.
I could tell he was nervous. He kept fidgeting his hands, and he kept walking from room to room. He looked dashing in his gray suit and red tie. A whole room just for him. It had to be nerve racking.
When I see Matt nervous, it always makes me giggle. It’s because he’s always so turned on, always the people person, always able to carry a conversation. I knew he’d be okay once the first person greeted him and the night proceeded. It was his first time hosting a fundraising event, and I knew he wanted it to be perfect. I kept reassuring him the night would indeed be perfect, because when people gather for a cause as important as Matt’s and Andy Talley’s, they put their hearts into it.
To say Matt has put his heart into the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation would be an understatement. Not only is it because both of us have seen first hand how devastating diseases can be in crippling the people who have them and who are in need of bone marrow, but also because of Matt’s own experience donating bone marrow. To fully understand just how much this cause means to him means you’ll have to read his story.
Matt’s journey began his freshman year football season at Villanova University. Coach Talley came to the football team and asked the men to swab their cheeks. Matt thought little of what the outcome could be perhaps, being the cheek swab took a minute or so and the probability of being called for a match was one in 80,000. But if Matt had at least a chance to help, he wanted to.
Matt received his first phone call from the Be The Match Foundation during football season of his junior year, informing him that he was a match and asking him if he would donate. He didn’t think twice about his answer. At this time, the Villanova football team was on the hunt to the playoffs. But Matt’s answer was still yes. He didn’t know when he would get another call telling him that he would have to start preparing his body for the procedure. That second call meant no sports for him.
Football season came and went, and Matt was able to not only play, but help Coach Talley and the team win the national championship and accomplish a memory, he said, he would never forget.
That spring, during Matt’s baseball season, was when he got that second call. It was a really important time in his season because scouts were getting their last looks in before the draft. Matt was sidelined three and a half weeks and thought that his chance at becoming a professional baseball player could be jeopardized. But he came back from the transplant stronger than ever, hitting a home run his first at-bat back.
Matt found out a year later that his bone marrow went to a little baby girl in the Ukraine named Anastasia. Without his bone marrow, Anastasia would not have survived.
“I cannot begin to describe to you how happy and rewarded and blessed it makes me feel to have given her a second chance at life,” Matt said in his speech last night to a crowd of 75 guests.
To this day, Anastasia continues to grow and be healthy.
“My bone marrow experience has changed my life,” Matt said. “It made me realize that sports aren’t the most important thing, that life is fragile and that we aren’t always guaranteed it. It made me realize what life is about, like family and friends and being healthy. If you have those three things, you are extremely blessed.”
Tears swelled in my eyes as I watched pictures and videos of Anastasia swirl around the room. I watched my husband earnestly ask those gathered around us for support in joining him in the fight to save others. I scanned the crowd and noticed the outpouring, overwhelming devotion emanating from our guests before us.
“So I ask all of you sitting before me for your help,” he said. “Help us any way you can, if it’s by sharing a link, signing up for a cheek swab, donating, or helping us get the word out. Join us in this fight. Because we need you. And together, we can make the difference, and together we can save lives.”
The first ever “Szcz The Day” bone marrow fundraiser hosted by the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation raised over $30,000. Thank you to everyone who helped in any way possible to make the night a successful one for all of us.