In June of 2004, just one year after graduating from UMHB, Matt Blackburn had no idea that an extra credit project would help him save a young woman’s life.
Now a coach at Belton High School, Blackburn majored in exercise sports science.
“We were offered a minuscule amount of extra credit if we would go over to the health fair that UMHB was putting on,” he said.
“There was a particular booth that didn’t have too many people stopping by, so I walked over and asked the elderly woman how she was doing, and then she told me she was with the national marrow donor program … and she explained there was a registry that people could get on and if you were a perfect match for someone needing a transplant you get a call asking if you’d be willing to donate,” Blackburn said.
After having been told that he was more likely to win the lottery than receive a call as a perfect match, Blackburn decided it would be a good thing to do, and he’d help on the off chance he was ever called. Despite never expecting to be asked, he knew he’d help in a heartbeat.
Just a few years later, Ashley Taylor, a 19-year-old from Indianapolis, Ind., was told she had leukemia, and her only option for survival was a risky bone marrow transplant.
“I was 18 when I was diagnosed with my first cancer, which was a bone cancer, and I completed 10 months of chemotherapy and radiation,” she said. “About three months after my clean bill of health, I was diagnosed with leukemia … and my body was so weak they knew either the chemo or the cancer would kill me if they couldn’t get the bone marrow.”
When Blackburn was called, he was told that he was a match for someone, and he was the only one they had at that time. The doctors asked if he would be willing to donate.
“At that point, I said, ‘Who wouldn’t donate?’ It was an opportunity to save someone’s life,” Blackburn said.
Without hesitating, he immediately volunteered for the transplant, and Taylor’s life was saved.
Now, six years after the call that brought them together in spirit, they met for the first time on the grounds of UMHB.
At a medical forum held at the school by Scott & White Oct. 19, Blackburn and Taylor were finally able to see one another.
“Seeing him was so overwhelming,” Taylor said. “I felt that there was this instant bond between us, like we are already family. And as soon as we met, he and his wife quickly welcomed me into their family.”
While it may have been the first time they met, Blackburn and Taylor were far from strangers.
“On the one-year anniversary of the transplant, Ashley called me to thank me,” Blackburn said. “Ever since then we have tried to call each other on or around the anniversary of the transplant. We’ve talked quite a lot in the past six years.”
After the initial meeting, they had trouble saying goodbye to one another.
“We both told each other we didn’t usually get emotional, but neither of us wanted to leave,” Taylor said. “We are already planning on them taking a trip up here to visit this summer. It was an amazing experience. We felt like we were twins separated at birth.”