CHICAGO — Jake Douglas never thought a simple swab of his cheek could save a total stranger's life.
But that's what happened to the recent DePaul graduate and former Blue Demons defender on the soccer team. In May 2014, Douglas registered for the Be The Match bone marrow registry at DePaul's Student Center, and his DNA was taken through a cheek swab.
Only one in 540 registrants ever receives a follow-up call with a potential match, but in January Douglas was contacted by Be The Match. Officials said his DNA could help a 59-year-old woman with Stage 4 leukemia.
After a series of blood tests, doctors determined Douglas was an ideal match for the woman. In March, he received five injections Downtown and at his Lincoln Park apartment to increase the number of bone marrow cells in his system. Later that month, he endured a four-hour procedure where blood was withdrawn from his right arm and put through a dialysis-like machine to separate the bone marrow cells. Those cells were transported to the woman, who was put on life support, had her entire immune system wiped out and had Douglas' cells infused into her.
Justin Breen says Douglas wants to meet the woman he saved:
This month, Douglas was told by BTM representatives that the woman was cancer-free and had left the hospital in good condition.
"It’s pretty surreal when you think about it," said Douglas, now a KPMG federal tax financial services associate who's studying for his CPA exam. "From her end, I’m sure it’s pretty heavy. For me, it’s just kind of something I did, and I was glad I could help."
Douglas has the opportunity to meet the woman in March — a year after his procedure — if he and the woman both want to. At this point, he only knows her age and gender. Lauren Johnson, a community engagement representative for BTM, said most patients and donors eventually form a relationship.
"Typically, they become like family afterward," Johnson said. "This [cell transplant] was likely her last resort. This basically created a whole new immune system for her."
Douglas heard about Be The Match visiting DePaul's campus from his head coach, Craig Blazer, who contacted several Blue Demons players to register. It took just minutes to complete the cheek swab, and Douglas forgot about doing it until he heard back from BTM.
"He started with an idea of trying to do something helpful and he ended up saving a life and providing even more," Blazer said. "The DePaul soccer program is very fortunate to have Jake and his family represent all of us with such a wonderful act."
Douglas started 18 games last season as a senior and was named to the Big East Conference All-Academic Team for the third time. At high school and youth soccer in Texas, he received multiple all-state honors and claimed an Under-16 national championship in 2009.
His father, Melvin, who flew to Chicago for Douglas' four-hour procedure in March, said he's just as proud of his son's decision to help save someone's life.
"I’ve watched him play hundreds of games, win a national championship, and seen him graduate from high school and college with honors," Melvin Douglas said. "In watching him lay in a bed for four hours to donate bone marrow, I was probably as proud of him then as I was at any of his other accomplishments."
Douglas' mother, Tonya, added: "He said he had the chance to do what he would want someone else to do for someone he loved. While we are incredibly proud of his actions, we are grateful for his personal growth experience and the example it has set for us all."
Douglas simply hopes his actions lead to more donations, and a second chance for the woman he saved.
"Looking back at it, I’m very proud of what it did for someone else," he said.
For more information on Be The Match, click here.
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