Now that the 2012 Summer Olympics have closed, the focus turns to the 2014 Winter Games – especially for Seun Adebiyi. The 29-year-old is training to compete in skeleton, a sport involving racing on a small sled down a frozen track, on behalf of his native country Nigeria. An impressive feat in its own right, Suen’s story includes a few hurdles that have altered his plans and given him additional goals.
Seun has had dreams of the Olympics since he was a child. As a part of the Nigerian Swim Team, he missed the 2004 Olympics by one-tenth of one second. A few years later, while a law student at Yale, Seun discovered the sport of skeleton and a new Olympic dream was born: to become Nigeria’s first competitor in the Winter Olympics. He started training for the 2010 Games.
In 2009, just after graduating from Yale Law School, Seun learned he had two rare and aggressive blood cancers: lymphoblastic lymphoma and stem cell leukemia. His doctors told him that he needed a stem cell transplant in order to survive, but unfortunately, a matching donor could not be found in the national registry. The most viable matches are generally found within a patient’s own ethnic group, so Seun’s Nigerian heritage and the shortage of African American’s in the national registry combined to work against him.
Putting his skeleton training on hold, Seun became an advocate for cancer patients of African descent, raising awareness of the need for more bone marrow donors. He worked with the South African registry to organize a donor drive in Nigeria. Shortly before he was to leave for Africa, Seun learned that a match for him using cord blood had been identified in the United States. Although Seun was no longer searching match, he put his own health at risk by proceeding with the trip in order to raise awareness and register potential donors for other patients in need.
Seun had to watch the 2010 Winter Olympics from his hospital bed, but the cord blood transplant was a success. His experience made him more determined to reach the 2014 Games and to take action to help other African and African American patients searching for bone marrow matches. He has organized the first Nigerian bone marrow registry (only the second registry in all of Africa) and he is working to establish a cord blood bank there as well. He also continues to race down a chute of ice at speeds around 80 mph as he pursues his Olympic skeleton dreams. As Seun put it, “I’ve already had cancer, what’s the worst that could happen?”
For more information about becoming a bone marrow donor, click here.
Learn more about Seun and his efforts:
- July 2012 interview on NPR – “Olympic Hopeful Works To Improve Bone Marrow Registries“
- May 2012 New York Times article – “Finding a Match, and a Mission: Helping Blacks Survive Cancer“
- November 2010 ESPN profile – “E:60 Skeleton Man” or watch it below.
In honor of Father’s Day, meet some fathers and grandfathers who are bone marrow, stem cell, or cord blood transplant patients. They are all dedicated to their families, but due to treatment, they are experiencing difficulty supporting their families and themselves.
Carl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2009. Since then he has spent much time in and out of the hospital. Carl needed to spend months away from his family in order to undergo a bone marrow transplant. The family felt blessed when they learned Carl’s sister was a perfect match, but they have been devastated by the lengthy treatment and the continued medical complications Carl is dealing with. They are in need of financial assistance with travel and medical expenses that are not covered by their insurance.
Tim was first diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in 2003 and was on chemotherapy for nine years. He eventually became resistant to it and would need a bone marrow transplant. Tim’s brother was a 100% match and he underwent the transplant this past Valentine’s Day. Tim and his wife of over 26 years have struggled with cancer costs for almost a decade. Medical bills, travel expenses, and lodging near the medical center have placed a financial burden on the family. Please support Tim and his family, so he can focus on returning to his music career, promoting western events, song writing, and spending time with his first grandson.
Christopher was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a group of blood and bone marrow disorders, and he underwent a cord blood transplant in June. His wife accompanied him to the transplant center to be his caregiver, while their three children remained at home. Although Christopher’s diagnosis and treatment have changed his life, he is very grateful because he feels like it could have been much worse. In order to sustain his family during this time, Christopher needs assistance with living expenses.
Stuart, a 48 year old husband and father of three, was diagnosed with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) in August of 2010. After several medical complications and four months in the hospital, Stuart received a bone marrow transplant in May of 2011. He has at least another year before he will be able to return to work, which is causing serious financial strain on the family. They are in need of help with their daily living expenses.
To help these or any of the Lifeline Project participants, click here.
Meet Joshua, Thomas, and Eddie. They are the latest Lifeline Project participants to be profiled in our ongoing series highlighting the needs of transplant patients.
Since he was four months old, Joshua has been fighting a diagnosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). He received an allogeneic stem cell transplant weeks before his first birthday. In order to treat HLH, Joshua and his single mother had to relocate. If he survives until 2014, he will be considered 100% cured. Until that time, he will have years of intensive treatment. Joshua and his mother need help paying for medical assistance devices, medications, and living expenses.
Thomas was first diagnosed with lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin’s disease in 1989. For over twenty years he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Unfortunately, in 2008, the cancer progressed to stage four and began taking over major systems in his body. Thomas has needed to undergo more chemotherapy in order to prepare his body for a bone marrow transplant. After dealing with this diagnosis for so many years, he is in need of financial assistance to help cover post-transplant treatment expenses.
In May of 2008, Eddie was diagnosed with Hunter syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that is always progressive and life-limiting. Eddie and his mother needed to relocate so that Eddie could have an unrelated cord blood transplant and a second chance at life. Eddie and his family are currently struggling with transplant-related expenses and the many symptoms related to his diagnosis. They are in need of funding to help cover these expenses.
To help these or any of the Lifeline Project participants, click here.