How Alumnus Billy Santoro Saved a Life & Helped a Boy Beat the Odds
Raima Islam '21
26 November 2018
On February 22, 2017, alumnus Billy Santoro '15 donated his bone marrow to save leukemia patient Matthew Walker's life. He donated through Be the Match, a nonprofit organization operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. The organization is dedicated to helping all patients get the life-saving transplants they need.
Billy attends Penn State University, where one day he was running late to class. On his way, he noticed a sign advertising a campus bone marrow drive. "Well, if I am going to be late, I might as well do something good while running late," Santoro thought at the time. He had some personal information taken, swabbed his cheek for DNA, and headed to class.
Around two months later, during winter-time, Santoro received a call saying he matched with a boy in need of a bone marrow transplant. The decision to donate was an easy one for him. "I was just told a thirteen-year-old boy needed help and that was all I needed to hear," Santoro remarked. "He has the rest of his life to live."
Matthew Walker was that boy in need. Walker was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia on August 3, 2015. After undergoing many rounds of chemotherapy, he went into remission in November 2015 and was doing great. However, on December 23, 2016, his family found out he relapsed. The only option was a bone marrow transplant.
Walker's parents and two older brothers were tested to see if they could donate their marrow. None of them were close enough matches. That was when they decided to turn toward a stranger for help. Just three weeks after Walker's relapse, the family found out they had a match. "We were stunned," stated Mr. Dion Walker, Matthew Walker's father. "We were excited but completely stunned because we had already settled on the fact that this was going to be a long process." Santoro was a nine out of ten on the match scale.
Santoro went to Buffalo, New York on February 22, 2017 to have the bone marrow extracted. The bone marrow arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio the next day, where it went to Matthew. He has been cancer-free ever since.
Santoro and the Walker family were not allowed to know each other's identities until one year after the procedure. They met in person in May 2018 when Santoro and his brother went to Louisville, Kentucky. Upon meeting each other, they immediately solidified a bond that can never be broken. Santoro
even tattooed the words "Blood Brothers" on his arm.
"We're very thankful," concluded Dion. "We have truly gained a son."