Michael Guglielmo spent 17 years in jail. Upon release, he became an unlikely hero for bone marrow donations in order to save his dying son, Giovanni. His newest campaign: “Be a Hero, Save a Life.”
On June 3, 2010, The Good Men Project as a website/content site/magazine was only 3 days old. After months of planning and prepping and sweating the details, we had launched on June first. And 3 days later, I left my team at the office still planning and prepping and sweating the details, and I drove to New Hampshire to meet Michael Guglielmo. I didn’t know what to expect.
I was meeting Michael because he had sent a blind email to The Good Men Project, because as he said, “I believe I’m a good man and other men could learn from what I did to save my son Giovanni’s life. Please just Google ‘Baby Giovanni,’ and myself to learn about us.”
So I did.
And I found a story about a father who would do anything to save his son who was dying of a rare genetic disorder and needed a bone marrow transplant. A father who would do anything he could to give Giovanni a chance of survival. The doctors had said that the chances of getting the correct match was 1 in 20,000. And so Michael said, “No problem, I’ll go out and find 20,000 donors so we know we’ll get a match.”
And he did.
Michael’s and Giovanni’s story would be stunning if it were merely a story about the love of a father to save his son at all costs. But the story doesn’t end there, and the story doesn’t begin there either. Prior to having Giovanni, Michael had spent 17 years in prison after an hours-long stand-off with the police. There were machine guns, cocaine and alcohol involved. The start of this TEDTalk shows actual footage of that day — the SWAT teams were taking this very seriously. Michael doesn’t try to sugar-coat what he did. “I was the bad guy” he says in the video.
So I drove into New Hampshire. Michael had asked to meet me at a gas station at the outskirts of town because “his house in the woods was hard to find.” Yes, I was nervous, but the story had captured my heart. Michael and I talked for two hours. I met his son Giovanni. What struck me most was the love of the father for his son, and the son for his father. We ran the interview and video on the Good Men Project here.
Despite all of Michael’s heroic efforts, Giovanni lived only 5 years. But that was 5 precious years that Michael got to spend with his son.
Some parents would say “I’d do it all again.” Michael, on the other hand, just keeps doing it. He emailed me recently to tell me that his campaign to get bone marrow matches is still going strong. “I’m doing it for Giovanni’s legacy,” he told me. Since Michael first found out about the need for bone marrow donors and started his activism, over 55k people have registered with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS resulting in 200 matches for others in need. Many more lives will be saved as a result of the names and samples now in the registry. His current drive is called “Be a Hero, Save a Life.”
I talked to Tara Schuh of the Delete Blood Cancer (deletebloodcancer.org). Tara and I talked about the way most people would like to be a hero if they could. They would like to have the chance to save someones life. But not everyone gets to run into a burning building or save someone who is drowning or do CPR right when it is needed.
And yet — for just a small amount of time, a few hours, really — you CAN save someone’s life. If you become a member of the bone marrow registry, you can give bone marrow to those desperately in need, once a match is made. Even with a registry of millions, 6 out of 10 patients never receive the lifesaving transplant they need. The more people who register, the better the odds.
Tara also explained that most of the donation process is by a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Donation. First, the number of stem cells in the donor’s bloodstream increased with injections of a synthetic protein called filgrastim.
On the day of collection the donor’s blood is removed with a sterile needle from one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. PBSC Collection is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure that takes about 4-8 hours on 1-2 consecutive days. Read more on deleteblodcancer.org’s FAQ’s, here.
The truth is—anyone can be a hero. All it takes is the willingness to want to help save someone’s life.