tampabay.com

Helping others beat the odds

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published February 14, 2007


You never know.

More than a decade ago, Michael A. Monahan's Phi Delta Theta fraternity brother at the University of Florida fell ill. Doctors diagnosed Brian Karmasin with leukemia, reminding him and his friends that a long life isn't promised to anyone. "At a time when you're supposed to be invincible, it was definitely shocking to see something take the knees out from under a person," Monahan said.

The frat brothers did what they could to help, venturing down to the local blood clinic to sign up for the National Marrow Donor Program Registry. Monahan wasn't a match for Karmasin, who ultimately found a related donor in, of all places, Germany.

Monahan's name, however, remained on the registry.

Flash forward a decade and he now is director of corporate communications for Walter Industries in Tampa. He had all but forgotten about the registry.

In the spring, his mother got a call from the Florida Blood Services in Gainesville. They were searching for Monahan because he might be a match for a 64-year-old patient in, of all places, Germany.

"It seemed bigger than it was, to have the potential to make that kind of impact on someone's life," Monahan said.

Monahan was humbled, but he first had to undergo a series of additional tissue-typing tests to make sure he was a match. During that time he drove with care and looked both ways before crossing the street.

"I didn't want something to happen to me and blow it, so I drove real carefully," he said.

Eventually, he made the donation. Now Monahan is hoping to convert his past deeds into a future for others by launching a donor recruitment program for Walter employees. Monahan chose today, Valentine's Day, to make the truly heartfelt appeal to his colleagues.

Karmasin, who now works for an engineering firm in Maitland, said he has heard the marrow drives made in his honor have helped a few people. "It's interesting how originally a bad thing that happened to me ended up helping others," Karmasin said.

More than 30,000 people a year are diagnosed with life-threatening blood diseases, and many need a healthy donation of marrow or blood stem cells. However, 70 percent of those patients are unable to find a match within their immediate family.

Finding a match outside the family sounds like a long shot, but the story of Karmasin and Monahan proves we should be willing to battle the odds.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or 813 226-3406.