I have the privilege of knowing Jason Lechette, having met him and his parents when he was playing freshman high school football. It’s hard to describe how thrilled he was to be back out on the football field in his senior year after a life-threatening illness. Jason and his family have come full circle from love of the game to total life upheaval back to love of the game. We are thankful to his doctors and his bone marrow donor, who Jason had the pleasure of meeting in September. Here's their story:
In 2011, Jason Lechette of Lincoln University, Pa., was being followed by doctors at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., for a sports-related concussion. He was cleared to return to the football field in October but he wasn’t quite himself, feeling tired and running fevers. His family’s worst fear at the time was that his symptoms were lingering side effects of the concussion. But the diagnosis they eventually got was far more serious. Jason had severe aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood disorder.
Aplastic anemia is a relatively rare condition that develops from a shortage of one or more types of blood cells. It can progress slowly or come on suddenly. In Jason’s case, by the time the diagnosis was made in November, it became clear to his doctors that the best course of treatment was a bone marrow transplant. Disappointingly, none of Jason’s close family members was a suitable match. A search of the National Marrow Donor registry yielded a few possibilities for Jason, one of which stood out in particular. The candidate who was the best match agreed to donate marrow and in February 2012 Jason underwent his transplant at duPont Hospital for Children, under the direction of Emi Caywood, MD.
During the recovery phase, Jason’s robust 220-pound frame dwindled to 140 pounds. Eating was perhaps his biggest challenge. Yet his parents Rick and Kathy Lechette say Jason’s recuperation went relatively smoothly, that he responded well to treatment, and that his positive attitude helped him overcome a devastating illness. Now 17, Jason is back in school and again suiting up for football. He pays volunteer visits to the hospital to counsel other young patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer and blood disorders. His goal is to help them by answering their questions, offering his perspective, and just boosting their spirits.
A year after his transplant, Jason’s family had the opportunity to express an interest in finding out who donated their life-saving bone marrow to Jason. Donors and recipients who wish to be identified work through the National Marrow Donor program to connect with one another. In September 2013, Jason was able to meet his donor, Philip Gosnell, a Yale undergraduate from Boston. His father, Tucker Gosnell, died of a rare gastrointestinal cancer in 2002 when Philip was just 9 years old. Philip joined the donor registry in hopes of helping others battle disease. He didn’t hesitate when the call came that he was a near-perfect match for someone.
Jason, Philip and their families met at a Red Sox game at Boston’s Fenway Park on a special donor recognition day. There were many hugs, many tears, much conversation and vows to stay in touch. Kathy Lechette says it was the most special day of her life, bar none (with apologies to her husband Rick), including her wedding day. She describes Philip as kind, quiet and humble. In a Boston hotel room after the game, Jason checked his Facebook account. Philip had sent him a friend request.
To learn more about registering to be a bone marrow donor, visit bethematch.org.