How a Union fan joined the fight to kick cancer...one swab at a time

In just five minutes, Union fan Rebecca Rizzo became a lifesaver

Rebecca Rizzo

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of the Rizzo family

 

Prior to attending the match against Chivas USA on June 25, 2011, Rebecca Rizzo received an email stating that DKMS, an organization that seeks donors for blood cancer patients planned to conduct a Swabathon within Toyota Plaza outside PPL Park. Realizing the importance of the cause, she decided to take the time before the game to head over to the Delete Blood Cancer booth and offer a sample to get into the database as a potential donor.

Late last week, Philadelphia Union received admirable news from the Rizzo family when it was found that through their partnership with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, Rizzo, an avid Union fan and season ticket holder, was recently informed she was a match for a patient after she supplied that swab sample. Rizzo's husband Bill sent the following via email: 

"I am excited to notify you that as a result of this partnership, the Delete Blood Cancer DKMS Organization has indeed found someone my wife is compatible with and she has begun taking the necessary steps to follow through on her commitment and hopefully save someone’s life through the donation of her bone marrow.

We would like to thank the Union for partnering with such worthy causes. It gives me so much pride to know that the team I support and love is not only working to win matches on the pitch, but striving to create greater good in the community through the sport of soccer. This will hopefully bring more attention to this disease and what can be done to help those in need along with spotlighting the good work the Union are doing to support great causes that make the world a better place."

For Rebecca Rizzo, this is a cause that already held a special place in her heart. At a young age, her brother was diagnosed with meningitis. After he spent about five months at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, doctors contemplated the option of a bone marrow transplant. As his sibling, Rebecca, naturally was the closest match.  

"I was just so excited at the fact that the five minutes of my time, in doing the swab, could give somebody an extra 50 years on their life."

- Rebecca Rizzo

“Ever since then I have felt almost an obligation to be able to be out there and be willing to donate to whoever might need something that I can give them,” Rizzo said during an interview with philadelphiaunion.com this week.

Luckily for Rizzo and her family, her brother was able to recover to the point where he did not require the transplant. Even though she was off the hook, Rizzo’s desire to help others and look into future possibilities of doing so remained.

“I didn’t end up donating it that time because he made enough of a recovery that he didn’t need the bone marrow transplant, but I continued to think about it and think that this is possibly something I’d want to do in the future as I become an adult,” she said.

After spending months in the bone marrow database as a potential donor, Rebecca received an email informing her that she was a match and had the opportunity to help a lucky patient. There are many cases when people are confirmed as a match, they decline to follow through, but that wasn’t the case with Rizzo. Rather than worry about how it would affect her, she instead looked at the positives it would have for a person in need and was more than happy to donate the bone marrow.

“I was just so excited at the fact that the five minutes of my time, in doing the swab, could give somebody an extra 50 years on their life,” Rebecca said. “Whatever minimal pain I have to go through, a family won’t have to go through the pain of losing a loved one.”

Rizzo has undergone the initial blood work process that is required prior to donating and is just waiting to receive the go ahead from the recipient’s side. It is estimated that the donation could take place within the upcoming two months. In the meantime, her family, friends, coworkers and especially her husband, Bill have all been very supportive and excited for her. However, for Rizzo, the wait has really become the most mentally draining part of the process.

“Now I am just sitting and patiently waiting and it is the longest eight week period I have ever had to go through in my life,” she said. “I am anxious, but I’m willing to do it whenever I get that phone call or get that email to say let’s go.”

According to the United States Health Resources and Services Administration, over 18,000 people from age 0-74 in the United States could have their life potentially saved from a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. Many of these patients are ones that suffer from leukemia, lymphoma, meningitis, or other life-threatening diseases, but can all be helped through a transplant. Realizing the high amount of people in need, Rizzo is not stopping at her own donation, but wants to spread the word and help get others involved.

Rizzo currently works as a physical therapist at Underwood Memorial Hospital in South Jersey and is making an effort to have a swabathon at the hospital. She is also hoping, once she finishes her donation, to continue to volunteer and help Delete Blood Cancer in their cause.

“I hope to sometime in the future continue to volunteer with them, help with swabathons in the community, and be involved with the program however I can,” Rizzo said.

A cause that was spawned through the efforts of the Union, urging others to consider taking a second of their time to see if they could add years to the life of someone else.

Just like Rebecca Rizzo did.

Contact Union writer Howard Hutchinson at hhutchinson@philadelphiaunion.com