A match that saved a life

Football player donates bone marrow to stranger

Brendan Ginn, Queen’s football player, had 20-odd liters of his bone marrow donated.
Brendan Ginn, Queen’s football player, had 20-odd liters of his bone marrow donated.

As Gaels offensive lineman Brendan Ginn walked off the field at Richardson Stadium last weekend, his mother and an unfamiliar face stopped him.

It was someone he had planned on meeting for a while now — Kingston resident Joanne Curran. During this brief moment, the two shared a few words and took a photo while Curran thanked Ginn multiple times.

Although this was the first time the two met, their connection originates from a simple mouth swab that Ginn had done in 2013 that would change the course of his life. It wasn’t until two years later that he’d find out exactly how, but Curran’s daughter Mackenzie, was the catalyst.

In 2013, OneMatch — a group responsible for finding and matching volunteer donors to patients who require stem cell transplants — was in the ARC, trying to find a donor for then local high school student, Mackenzie Curran.

Curran needed a bone marrow donor after finding out she had myelodysplastic syndrome — a disorder that prevents the bone marrow from producing enough healthy blood cells.

Led by some older Gaels football players, Ginn filled out his email and phone number information, took a swab of the inside of his cheeks with a q-tip and awaited the results.

Later that year a match was found for Curran in Germany. Ginn, hearing the news, moved on from being a potential donor and focused on football. 

“The odds of finding someone in Kingston is pretty rare, but somebody in the world is going to match you,” he said.

And someone did. Although it came two years later, Ginn received a call in February 2015 that changed his life.

“I got a call from a random number in Toronto so I thought I’ll answer this and when I did they said ‘We’re from OneMatch’ and I thought oh wow.”

While they didn’t confirm the details of surgery at the time, OneMatch said they had found a match for Ginn to donate marrow to and they would be in touch. 

After four months without hearing back, Ginn thought they found a better match. But in May of that year the same unidentified number showed up on his phone, telling him that he was indeed the best match.

With the surgery set in July of that year, Ginn was prepared to donate the bone marrow from his hip and then to return to football for their preseason. However, after coming down with a bad cold just before the scheduled surgery, Ginn had to move it later, effectively cutting his training camp short.

After telling head coach Pat Sheanan and his teammates about the surgery, his priorities became clear — surgery before football.

Even with hearing stories of people not returning to sport following the surgery, the people at OneMatch put him at ease; telling him the recovery process would take three weeks.

Early in the morning on August 5, 2015, Ginn had two needles drill small slits into his back, taking some 20-odd liters of bone marrow from his hip.

Following surgery, Ginn travelled back to Kingston to get ready for the football season. He spent the first week on the recovery bike and gradually worked his way back to the weights and eventually onto the field. In the end, OneMatch was correct. Brendan Ginn dressed for the first game of the year against the Carleton Ravens.

The surgery was a success, Ginn was able to save a life. Currently, he hasn’t met or heard from the person who he donated to. OneMatch leaves it up to the recipient to reach out and while he’d like to meet them, Ginn understands that it’s up to them.

Since the surgery, Ginn has been doing what he loves — playing football. 

Having both seen the effects of the OneMatch organization, Curran and Ginn decided to meet up to share their stories with each other. It was only then that Curran found out how Ginn’s journey began with her daughter that she began to cry.

“Anyone who had swabs and is willing to do it is a hero in her books,” Ginn said.

Since meeting Curran on the weekend, Ginn has kept in touch with the family.

After being influenced by older Gaels to take a swab, Ginn has taken the same role. 

When a team’s film meeting finished at Dupuis Hall in Kingston on Sunday, it happened to coincide with a Canadian Blood Services swabbing event at Beamish-Munro Hall. When the team was done learning from the mistakes of their loss to Western, Ginn grabbed a few teammates and got them swabbed. 

The bone marrow surgery was a life changing moment for Ginn.

“I never thought in my whole life that I would potentially have the chance to save someone else’s life or at least give them more time. The fact that I was able to do that for somebody … Its bigger than a lot of us.”

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