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Meet your match: As a student, Matt Blackburn ’03 signed up for a donor registry list; years later he returned to campus to meet the woman whose life he saved

Meet your match: As a student, Matt Blackburn ’03 signed up for a donor registry list; years later he returned to campus to meet the woman whose life he saved

By Artie Phillips ’12

After graduating from UMHB in 2003, Matt Blackburn had no idea that an extra credit project he participated in during college would one day help him save a young woman’s life.
Now the head softball coach at Belton High School, Blackburn majored in exercise sports science.

“We were offered a minuscule amount of extra credit if we would go over to the health fair that UMHB was putting on,” he said.

One of the booths Blackburn visited that day was the national marrow donor program booth. He was told about their donor registry list, which notified potential donors if they were a perfect match for someone needing a transplant.

Blackburn was told that he was more likely to win the lottery than receive a call as a perfect match; still, he decided he’d donate on the off chance he was ever called. Despite never expecting to be asked, he knew he’d help in a heartbeat.

Just a few years later, Ashley Taylor, a 19-year-old from Indianapolis, Ind., was told she had leukemia, and her only option for survival was a risky bone marrow transplant.

“I was 18 when I was diagnosed with my first cancer, which was a bone cancer, and I completed 10 months of chemotherapy and radiation,” she said. “About three months after my clean bill of health, I was diagnosed with leukemia. My body was so weak they knew either the chemo or the cancer would kill me if they couldn’t get the bone marrow.”

That was when Blackburn received that fateful call, telling him he was the only match avaliable for a particular person at that time. The doctors asked if he would be willing to donate.

“At that point, I said, ‘Who wouldn’t donate?’ It was an opportunity to save someone’s life,” Blackburn said. Without hesitating, he immediately volunteered for the transplant, and Taylor’s life was saved.

This past October, six years after the call that brought them together in spirit, Blackburn and Taylor met for the first time at a medical forum held on campus. “I felt this instant bond between us, like we were already family,” Taylor said.

While it may have been the first time they met, Blackburn and Taylor were far from strangers.

“On the one-year anniversary of the transplant, Ashley called me to thank me,” Blackburn said. “Ever since then we have tried to call each other on or around the anniversary of the transplant.”

After meeting, they had trouble saying goodbye to one another.

“We both told each other we didn’t usually get emotional, but neither of us wanted to leave,” Taylor said. “We are already planning a trip to visit this summer. It was an amazing experience. We felt like we were twins separated at birth.”