Iraq Veteran Still on a Mission to Save Lives
So I am sitting having breakfast recently with one of my best friends, Pat LaMarche. We are talking about world events and such when she tells me this story. It was such a feel good story. I like those. I need those. She likes to see me get all misty with this stuff. It was a win-win. Check this out. Here’s some good news and the whole story from my friend Pat LaMarche... (and there is a link below on how you can be a hero too!)
Mike Laureano used to escort convoys in Iraq. He signed up for the reserves at 17, spent a few months with a unit in Pennsylvania, then got a transfer to the Delaware National Guard. Laureano’s a regular guy. You don’t have to take my word for it. He'll tell you himself. He’s quite insistent that there’s nothing special about him. Born in Jersey City, of Puerto Rican descent (that’ll matter later on), in his late twenties and he’s a banker now.
Back in 2009, Laureano’s Uncle Sam thought he’d be good at guarding civilian assets as they distributed supplies from one Iraqi base to another. This regular guy geared up in armored clothing and climbed into armored vehicles with one task each day - don’t let anybody kill the people in his care.
He’s just a regular guy, pulled out of a regular life, charged with saving the lives of folks he’d never met.
In the year he spent putting himself in harm’s way for others, they never lost a anyone. Laureano knows that this was part luck - but only part. Those convoys wouldn’t have stood a chance without Laureano and the other soldiers in his unit.
Laureano served in the military for eight years. During his state side guard service, Laureano worked at a bank. After he got out of the guard, he went to school. One night, heading to class at Wilmington University, Laureano was approached by the staff and volunteers of Be the Match. The recruiters told him that they were collecting DNA samples for their database. From that database donors might be - and for a long time had been - identified to save the lives of cancer patients and folks with sickle cell anemia. In total, they informed him, more than 80 diseases, genetic disorders, and autoimmune diseases may be - and had been - cured by bone marrow donors on their list.
According to Laureano’s recollection, he shrugged and said sure. They swabbed the inside of his cheek, took his information, and he went off to class. Laureano didn’t worry much about the registry. Registering didn’t mean he’d definitely donate - it didn’t even mean he’d get contacted.
But I promised you good news, so you know he got that call.
I asked Laureano if he considered - at the time of his cheek swab - that he might one day give someone a chance at a new life. He said he considered it briefly and it was part of why he agreed to be on the list. Laureano explained, “In my mind, if i was a perfect match, why wouldn’t I do it.”
A year and a half later Laureano’s phone rang, but he missed a phone call. When he listened to the message, he learned that a four year old girl suffering from lukemia needed a donation and he appeared to be a perfect match.
Laureano likes to discuss big decisions with his family. But that day he didn’t take the time, “I hadn’t talked to anyone, I called right back. I just said, ‘Yes.’”
The way you hear Laureano tell it, the biggest part of his marrow donation was getting week or so off from work. He had a few blood tests. Once the match was confirmed he traveled to DC for an overnight stay in the hospital after which he hung out at home, relaxed and kept hydrated.
I asked him if it hurt. He said he was sore, “It wasn’t painful, just a sore.” He had so little discomfort that his hip didn’t even mind the three hour car ride, post-procedure, back home from DC.
In six weeks Laureano had all his marrow back and his ordinary life was just as ordinary as it had ever been - with the exception that every now and again he’d open his email and learn something new about “The subject.” Laureano said he’d see, “Subject alive.” “Subject healing.” “Subject able to do all normal functions.”
As soon as he was allowed, Laureano told Be the Match that he was willing to meet the recipient. The little girl’s parents did the same.
Why did it matter that Laureano was Puerto Rican? I asked Be the Match’s Aimee Haskew - she was there the night they swabbed Laureano’s cheek - check her out at a donor drive, she’s got lots of success stories to share from her time as the eastern region’s Community Engagement Representative.
Haskew simplified the whole diversity thing for me - which I greatly appreciated. She said that based on our backgrounds, we’ve got something like a “barcode” on our blood cells. If someone is of similar ethnicity they end up with similar barcodes. So yeah, whether I understand it or not, the registry needs more people of color and diverse ethnic backgrounds to come forward.
And by now you've figured out that the little girl Laureano helped had Puerto Rican ancestors.
You really want to brighten your day? Watch this video of Laureano meeting the little girl he helped. You want happy? Look at this family! A family that now counts Laureano as one of them. After all, they’re blood relatives now.
Every three minutes someone in the United States learns that they have leukemia or lymphoma. For many, ordinary people are the only way to save their lives: Ordinary people like you.
I can hear you right now saying, “I wish I was Mike Laureano. I wish I had the courage to guard convoys.” So I asked him, “You’re used to taking risks for total strangers. Was that part of it? All that time serving in Iraq?”
He told me, “Saving lives in Iraq, we were part of a team. A well trained team. We were prepared.” Donating marrow is the same thing - only without the risks. Laureano continued, “I’m not a hero. I did what I could because I could. If you could give hope to someone where there might not be any, why wouldn’t you? Especially because it’s so easy.”
If there’s one message Haskew hopes folks get from this good news story, it’s the “because it’s so easy” part. That and the fact that they need healthy folks - especially persons of color and diverse backgrounds - to come forward and be tested. You can be part of the next good news story by contacting Be the Match.
Do it now. Now is the best time of all.
So ya....see why I was misty eyed?
You can be a hero too! Here is the link to join the Be The Match Registry!
I have been on the list for years with Be the Match. Every now and then I get an email just making sure I still want to be on the list and they have current information.
Thank you Mike for all you have done. Thank you Pat for making me all happy-misty again putting this story together.