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Peter Favilla’s past caught up with him, so to speak — and it saved a life

Bone marrow donor Peter Favilla. Sumbitted photo courtesy of Peter Favilla

Peter Favilla got the phone call in November 2015.

Favilla, 47, is a married father of two teenage children living in Houlton, Wis.

Twenty years ago, he was a 24-year-old graduate student working toward his MBA at Indiana University.

The caller said they were calling him on behalf of the Indiana Blood Center. Favilla drew a blank.

"I said, 'So why are you calling me?' They said, 'You signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program 20 years ago when you were in graduate school.'"

Then he remembered seeing a flier for a national organization called Be The Match. Thinking, sure what the heck, his cheek was swabbed and he forgot about it — until years later.

We found a match for your bone marrow, the caller said.

It wasn't the type of thing you say no to, Favilla admitted. And as a member of People's Congregational Church in Bayport, he had a duty to live his faith.

His marrow was harvested Aug. 11 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They extracted 1.6 liters from the back of his pelvis. Immediately it was put in a cooler and put on a plane, destination unknown. It was injected into the patient the next day.

"It's all confidential," Favilla said. "You don't find out where it's going. It turns out it went to Texas."

He heard nothing more for a while. Under confidentiality guidelines, donor and recipient were kept anonymous.

Eventually, however, he began to get periodic progress reports.

"I would get updates on Be The Match on how she was doing," he said. "Every time there was a quarterly update I'd come to the church and give the whole congregation updates."

They would offer up prayers. Pastor Linda Tossey recalls that at first they didn't even know if they were praying for a man or a woman. They just prayed for "the recipient."

"We just surrounded them in our love and our prayer and our compassion, which is what we are taught to do," Tossey said.

Favilla eventually learned that the recipient was a 49-year-old kindergarten teacher who lived in Texas. Her name was Michelle Hayes.

Favilla and Hayes spoke for the first time by phone in November 2016.

"It was incredibly humbling and incredibly emotional, I will tell you," he said, "with what she went through, tons of medication and then trying to reschedule her daughter's wedding to have it in the hospital because they didn't think she'd make it."

Hayes and her husband are driving to Wisconsin from Texas to meet Favilla. They will attend a service Sunday, July 9, at People's Congregational Church. A reception for the couple will follow.

Be The Match, a national bone marrow registry, will host a bone marrow registry drive at the church noon-2 p.m. The public is invited. Joining the registry is painless, Favilla said. They swab the inside of your cheek, put it in an envelope and you go. When he registered 20 years ago, he had to have a blood sample drawn.

The urgent need is for young donors between the age of 18-44 said Julie Slipka, community engagement liaison for Be The Match.

"They're finding that that age range is the best results for patients," she said. "They don't have to be a related family member to be a donor."

In fact, 70 percent of patients don't have a fully matched donor in their family, she said.

"They depend on Be the Match."

If you go:

The Be The Match bone marrow donor registry drive is noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 9 at People's Congregational Church, 309 Third St. N., Bayport. Donors aged 18-44 are needed. For more information, contact Peter Favilla , 651-323-0553 or email peterfavilla@gmail.com.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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