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‘The true Santa Claus’: A once-in-a-lifetime Christmas gift from Mr. Claus

By Isabel Braverman
November 29, 2012

‘Tis the season of giving. While many are happy to receive material gifts, there are some gifts that have no price value. They are the gifts of life, and they are priceless.

James Matos received one such gift. He is the husband of The River Reporter’s sales director Barbara Matos. In late August 2009 James was diagnosed with AML-Leukemia, and two weeks later he learned he would need a bone marrow transplant. Doctors told James the harrowing news that he had a 30% chance of finding a donor. After what looked like a dismal search, James received the best Christmas present of all. Three days before Christmas, on December 22, 2009, they had found a donor.

This meant that the long and risky process of a bone marrow transplant would now happen. On February 12, 2010, James went to the hospital to undergo the procedure. That date is now known as his “birthday.” The bag of bone marrow arrived in a cooler with an American flag on it and was hooked up and slowly fed into James’s body. The process is similar to a blood transfusion, and takes a few hours.

After the procedure, James spent five weeks in the hospital. His body was in an extremely weakened state, his immune system was like that of an infant’s—incapable of fighting off disease. At one point, James got an infection and his temperature rose to 104 degrees. Treatment required many blood transfusions and he needed many bone marrow biopsies, which were painful. On top of that, he rapidly lost muscle from having to lie in bed. For weeks, he couldn’t even walk.

Finally, James was released from the hospital and could return home, but that didn’t make things any easier. He couldn’t be around people for fear of getting sick, and had to be in isolation. Barbara created his own “bachelor pad” in the upstairs of their Long Island home. She slept in the dining room. Due to his chemotherapy, he lost his appetite and subsequently lost weight. He found it exhausting just to walk from the bedroom to the living room. He had to take 66 pills a day.

Over time, James gained strength and was able to fight his infection and to walk again. Later, he was thrilled when he could go on walks outside and even go out to eat at restaurants.