Chip Cummings Field in Plattsburgh decorated with Brian Mehan’s initials and number in his honor. Brian Mehan crossing the feild in full catcher’s gear.
For some people, baseball and other sports are not just a way of life but a reason to live. The SUNY Plattsburgh baseball team will be combining its love of the game with the conviction to save lives in honor of former team member Brian Mehan.
The baseball team will host ‘Brian Mehan Be The Match Day‘ on Tuesday, April 30. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the team will be collecting swabs for bone marrow matching in the Cardinal Lounge and before the game there will also be a swabbing station set up at the Lefty Wilson Field on Bailey Ave from 6 to 7:30 p.m. before the team plays SUNY Canton that evening.
“It seems right to have the game there, it’s where we played against each other in high school and we played together in college,” said former teammate Joey Painter. Mehan played for Plattsburgh High School and Painter played for Au Sable Valley before they played for PSU.
Organ donor testing
People can get tested for free during the day at campus or at the baseball field. Those tested will also be put into the organ donor registry. PSU baseball coach Kris Doorey said the Be the Match personnel will take a cotton swab and scrape along the inside of the mouth and from that they’ll be able to tell if the person is a match for someone, he said it is easy and painless.
Doorey said the event is not just the last home game of the season but most importantly it is an opportunity to remember a former player who succumbed to leukemia in 2008. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow is where blood cells are made. When someone suffers from leukemia, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. The cells don’t do the work of normal white blood cells, grow faster than normal cells, and they don’t stop growing when they should.
Doorey said when he first met Mehan he was a “top recruit” for the team as a catcher and a first baseman.
“He was strong and a great player, we were really looking forward to having him take the field,” said Doorey.
During Mehan’s sophomore season, Doorey said Mehan was always tired and the doctors couldn’t find a reason for it, until one test came back confirming he had leukemia.
“He underwent treatment for a year and then wanted to be back on the field for the spring 2007 season, he was really ready to come back, he practiced with us all fall,” said Doorey. “Then he came to my office one day and said ‘coach we’ve got to talk’ and he told me they found more cancer.”
Mehan went through more treatments, chemotherapy and went into surgery to have a bone marrow transplant at Dartmouth Medical Center.
“They were going in, but when they opened him up they saw he had even more cancer than they thought,” Doorey said. “They stitched him back up and they brought him home and I got to spend a whole day with him at his home here.”
Doorey said Mehan died on March 2, 2008, a few days before his birthday. Mehan would have been 20 years old.
“He was young, too young,” said Doorey. “It really puts everything into perspective, especially puts baseball into perspective.
“As a coach sometimes you get a little crazy or your expectations of players can get a little crazy. We put so much emphasis on winning,” said Doorey. “But at the end of the game our players are still alive and it’s just a baseball game, we need to just go out and do our best. This has changed the way I look at things for sure.”
Countless lives saved
Last year Doorey and Painter along with the baseball team held the first swab in May 2012. The event generated more than 200 possible donor submissions.
About three months after testing at the game, Painter got the call from Be the Match that he was a possible match for someone.
“I think this person could possibly have been waiting for a while for someone to be a match and I was fortunate enough to be a part of that,” said Painter. “They told me this man’s cancer could have spread while he waited for a donor.
“It’s not that I’m noble, I just signed up and my body was healthy enough for the transplant. I’m just lucky and proud to be able to say I did it.”
Painter said a donor must be a 99.9 percent genetic match, which is one reason it’s often difficult to match those in need with a donor.
Painter said his role as a donor was harder than he thought it would be in the beginning. Before he went into surgery he needed to have a “head to toe physical” to make sure he was healthy enough to do the transplant. In October he went through a four-hour procedure and spent two days in the hospital during his bone marrow retrieval where they put needles into his pelvis, leaving him with small scars on his back, in order to retrieve the marrow. After undergoing surgery, Painter was called back to donate plasma on April 15 in Boston. His role as a donor showed him how fortunate he was to be healthy and give the gift of life to a stranger.
“It’s a small sacrifice for me, I don’t have cancer and I don’t know anyone who can say their lives haven’t been affected by cancer,” said Painter.
Through Be the Match, Painter said all medical expenses were handled by the non-profit which can include travel, lodging, food and other expenses for donors who must travel to receive treatments.
“Be the Match compensates 100 percent,” said Painter. “It doesn’t matter if you have insurance or you don’t they handle it.”
Be the Match couldn’t tell Painter much about the person who he donated his bone marrow to. Though they were able to tell him it was a male about 48 years old and from a card he received later he learned the man also had been married for 25 years and had two children.
A year after the transplant, donors and transplant recipients with Be the Match can have the opportunity to meet or speak. Painter said he hopes to take advantage of the opportunity.
“We encourage everyone to come out and get tested, it’s an opportunity to save someone’s life, if you’re on the other side you’re always hoping someone will step up, this is their opportunity to potentially save a life,” said Doorey.
For more information about the event or to learn more about how to become a donor contact Doorey at Plattsburgh State at 564-2000.