Daniel Katz won a kind of lottery. It didn't bring him riches, but it may have offered something more valuable — the comfort of knowing that he acted to save a child's life.
This all started five years ago when Katz was a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, preparing for a career in corrections. He was also an intern at Middleton Jail. Along with classmate and pal Jason Alexander of Salem, he happened on a booth where students were invited to give a blood sample in order to qualify as bone marrow donors.
"It seemed like a nice thing to do," he recalls today.
Both of them gave blood. Then, Katz promptly forgot about it. Until a few months ago, when he got a call.
"One in 200 people get the call," he explains. Alexander, for example, was not called.
But the odds are even slimmer than that. "One in three people that do get the call are asked to be donors," adds Katz, who grew up in Marblehead. He might have been forgiven if he'd simply waved off the medical people and gone about his job. That job is hard enough. Katz is now a guard at the jail.
But even if he'd had thoughts of ducking out — which he didn't — the doctors made an extremely compelling case. "They told me it would be a 13-year-old boy right away," Katz remembers. The youth has acute leukemia.
"To need a bone marrow transplant, you've got to be very sick," Katz says.
In this case, it wasn't just that he was a good match. They told him he was the only match. With no responsibilities to anyone but himself, he instantly made the decision to do it.
Donating bone marrow is no easy process. It involves a general anesthetic and a needle that punctures the hip bone multiple times until an appropriate quantity of marrow can be extracted. In addition to the risks involved in any type of surgery, donors can spend a few days in the hospital.
His surgery was performed at Massachusetts General earlier this month. The procedure lasted about an hour and a half. "I was asleep." Doctors cautioned against returning to work too early. Because his job can lead to physical confrontations, his fragile hip bone might be prone to damage.
Using his own sick time, Katz took off three weeks. He's been sore since the surgery, but that is fading. The Sheriff's Department has been publicizing his selfless act. Thus, a few days ago, Katz was handed a free coupon for a massage by Frank Corcoran, who runs LivingWell in Salem.
"This kid is going to grow up," Corcoran said. He indicated that the kid could possibly have a normal life like anyone else. "He's going to be having bacon and eggs at (a restaurant) because of you." He speculated that Katz's gesture would inspire others to do the same thing.
That's exactly what Katz is hoping. He urges anyone interested in donating to contact bethematch.org.
At the jail, Katz's fellow guards are enthused about his decision, hoping that it shows a positive side to a profession that is too easily misunderstood and denigrated.
"He's just a great kid," Sheriff Frank Cousins says. "He is the prototype of the new, young corrections officer."
So far, Katz hasn't heard from the recipient. Privacy laws protect his identity, even his location. It could take a year before doctors have a handle on how well the transplant takes. After that time, he's been told, the boy might reach out to contact the young man who offered so much of himself to save a stranger.