Hannah Peters | Staff Writer
Feb. 9, 2023
Ayden Garnes hated seeing his grandmother fight cancer. So when the chance came for the Duquesne sophomore defensive back to donate his bone marrow to help save someone else’s life, the choice was easy.
On Jan. 4, he underwent surgery to give the life-saving marrow to a woman with blood cancer.
“That’s the best gift in the world,” Garnes said. “Hearing that you’ll be able to have the surgery to stay alive.”
He said that doctors made seven incisions around his hips and back to remove the bone marrow. From each of those seven incisions, 50 more incisions were made.
Garnes underwent one of the more invasive surgeries for willing donors, and a total of 1.5 liters of his bone marrow was taken.
“It went fine, really. The incisions didn’t really hurt as much as I thought they would,” Garnes said.
The only pain Garnes recalls is some irritation in his throat from the breathing tube. In fact, just 10 days later, he was back in the gym working out.
He first heard the news that he was a match for a patient in need of a transplant during the football season from an unexpected email.
“When I got the email, I had kinda forgotten all about it. My mom was a little timid about it at first, but I told them this is something I want to do,” Garnes said. “I knew I wanted to do it ever since I was swabbed.”
Back in April, the football team participated in a swab drive. Each one swabbed
their cheek to be put in a database as potential matches for blood cancer patients needing bone marrow.
“It was a big thing we all did, we all wanted to help somebody,” Garnes said.
The drive has taken place annually on Duquesne’s campus for the past 13 years through a program called Be The Match. Operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, they actively manage the most diverse marrow registry in the world.
Through its college program called Get in The Game, Duquesne has been able to gather more than 4,500 registrants and over 25 donors throughout its 13 years on campus.
The head of the program at Duquesne and Defensive Coordinator for the football team, Mike Craig, said this was the first time he has gone through the whole process with a donor, and the first time he has seen a football player donate.
“I told Garnes, ‘This is your legacy, man’ This is doing something for other people. It’s not what you do in football, it’s about what you do for others that’s going to make the biggest impact on the world,” Craig said.
Surviving cancer himself and witnessing his college roommate battle leukemia, Craig knows the hardships of cancer all too well.
“Cancer affects everybody,” Craig said.
And the statistics say the same: every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukemia, according to the Be The Match website.
“I think the message moving forward is to continue spreading awareness for this need that’s out there and how simple it really is to help,” Craig said. “What Garnes did was a great representation of our university and overall mission to serve others. He should be celebrated for what he did.”
For Garnes, this also hits close to home.
“My coach and my grandma were my biggest motivation,” Garnes said. “My grandma had cancer, and I hated how she had to suffer. I didn’t want to have another family going through that, especially around Christmas time.”
His efforts have also helped spark more engagement in the cause: The Duquesne
community has another chance to participate in Be The Match this Saturday at the Duquesne men’s basketball game. National television will also be covering the game, which will recognize Garnes at halftime.
The game begins at 12:30 p.m. at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse and anyone ages 16-59 is eligible to join the registry by showing up and getting swabbed.
Garnes was also recognized at Hogan Dining Hall this past Wednesday for a honorary lunch in his name.
Craig credits Garnes for the increased interest in the cause at Duquesne.
“He made it a very real thing for our campus,” Craig said. “It’s a small sacrifice that means the world to someone else.”