‘Tis the season of giving. While many are happy to receive material gifts, there are some gifts that have no price value. They are the gifts of life, and they are priceless.
James Matos received one such gift. He is the husband of The River Reporter’s sales director Barbara Matos. In late August 2009 James was diagnosed with AML-Leukemia, and two weeks later he learned he would need a bone marrow transplant. Doctors told James the harrowing news that he had a 30% chance of finding a donor. After what looked like a dismal search, James received the best Christmas present of all. Three days before Christmas, on December 22, 2009, they had found a donor.
This meant that the long and risky process of a bone marrow transplant would now happen. On February 12, 2010, James went to the hospital to undergo the procedure. That date is now known as his “birthday.” The bag of bone marrow arrived in a cooler with an American flag on it and was hooked up and slowly fed into James’s body. The process is similar to a blood transfusion, and takes a few hours.
After the procedure, James spent five weeks in the hospital. His body was in an extremely weakened state, his immune system was like that of an infant’s—incapable of fighting off disease. At one point, James got an infection and his temperature rose to 104 degrees. Treatment required many blood transfusions and he needed many bone marrow biopsies, which were painful. On top of that, he rapidly lost muscle from having to lie in bed. For weeks, he couldn’t even walk.
Finally, James was released from the hospital and could return home, but that didn’t make things any easier. He couldn’t be around people for fear of getting sick, and had to be in isolation. Barbara created his own “bachelor pad” in the upstairs of their Long Island home. She slept in the dining room. Due to his chemotherapy, he lost his appetite and subsequently lost weight. He found it exhausting just to walk from the bedroom to the living room. He had to take 66 pills a day.
Over time, James gained strength and was able to fight his infection and to walk again. Later, he was thrilled when he could go on walks outside and even go out to eat at restaurants.
Six months after receiving the transplant, much to their surprise, James and Barbara learned that they would be allowed to write an anonymous letter to the bone marrow donor. But according to the rules, the letter could not include any personal information about themselves. The letter was first sent to the donor bank, where it was read and found to be acceptable, and then it was forwarded on. A few months later, the couple got a response. The bone marrow bank called with the donor’s information. His name? Chris Claus. Three days before Christmas, Mr. Claus had given James the gift of life.
James emailed Chris and the two began a weekly email correspondence. They realized they had a lot in common—same blood type, played Little League, liked the outdoors, around the same age, married to Scorpios, recently moved out of state and loved dogs. Barbara was in contact with Chris’s fiancée, Hang, and they planned a surprise for Chris: to show up at the Claus’s wedding.
So, in July 2012 Barbara and James flew to California and met Chris for the first time at his wedding. It was also an opportunity for Chris’s friends and family to learn about the gift that he gave. James and Barbara call him “the true Santa Claus.”
James and Barbara moved to Damascus, PA in September and James will celebrate his third “birthday” in February.
[It’s easy to give the gift of life. To become a bone marrow donor, visit marrow.org to learn how.]
[Every once in a while you hear a story about someone who gave or received a life-changing gift during the year-end holiday season. The River Reporter is looking for an individual with just such a heart-warming personal story to share. We are calling this feature “A Gift from the Heart,” and we want to tell several of these stories in our newspaper during December. If you are someone with such a story to share or know someone, kindly contact firstname.lastname@example.org  or call 845/252-7414, ext. 29. Join us in celebrating the joy of the season with our readers.]