FRISCO -- A goalie is expected to sacrifice his body for his team.
FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz recently made an even bigger sacrifice – donating bone marrow to a person he’s never met.
The procedure occurred a few months ago, but Seitz is now free to talk about the experience and how he's rehabbing to rejoin the team on the field.
“If I wouldn’t have done it, I’d have some really big issues. I would have looked back and regretted not being able to get out and help someone,” Seitz said.
Seitz’s story begins in 2008 when he was playing for Real Salt Lake when teammate Andy Williams’ wife was diagnosed with leukemia. Seitz and others on the team got swabbed – just a quick swab of the inside of the mouth to collect cells for analysis.
Seitz admits he didn’t think much about being added to the registry after that. He was just supporting a teammate.
Flash forward to mid-2012. Seitz is home and an email pops up – there was a surprise waiting for him in the message.
DKMS, the world’s largest bone marrow donor center and participant in a worldwide registry, emailed Seitz informing him he was a potential match for a patient in need.
“My heart rate definitely jumped. It definitely brought up some emotions. I contacted them right away to try and figure out what the steps were,” Seitz said.
Seitz went through some additional blood work so a more detailed analysis could determine which of the small group of potential matches would be the best match.
Seitz wound up being the best match for this particular patient and decided he would go through with the procedure if he could.
“It was something I really wanted to do for personal reasons as well as for to help someone else out,” Seitz said.
The personal reason was an almost unreal coincidence: Seitz’ uncle had been diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of 2012 and Seitz’ father was a match and set to donate to him around the time Chris was notified of being a match for someone.
Getting FCD on board
But Seitz had to get approval from the coaching staff, front office and ownership of FC Dallas.
After all, it was the middle of the season and Seitz was not only risking his own career to undergo the procedure but he would also need a replacement.
Richard Sanchez, FC Dallas’ third ‘keeper, is 18-years-old and was overseas in a tournament with the Mexican National Team and club officials had to be sure they could get him back for the remainder of 2012.
Seitz first told head coach Schellas Hyndman who immediately went to the front office to figure out if the soccer logistics could be taken care of so Seitz could be a bone marrow donor.
“We would all probably go and do a bone marrow transplant to save a child or a family member. I don’t know how many would step up and do a complete bone marrow transplant as a perfect match for a complete stranger,” Hyndman said.
Team officials were able to get everything worked out and allow Seitz to participate.
For team president Doug Quinn, himself a cancer survivor, it was something the organization worked hard to make happen.
“This is real surgery. He’s only got x number of days, years to ply his craft. There’s risks associated with any kind of surgery,” Quinn said. “This guy was risking it all for the chance to save someone’s life. It was something that touched me pretty deeply.”
Seitz flew to the East Coast for the procedure – an hour long surgery where 32 holes were drilled on each side of his lower back where the pelvic bone is located for a total of 64 holes in all. Marrow was extracted with a special syringe. Seitz woke up and doctors informed him the procedure went well.
“First time I was moving around was the next morning and was out on an airplane the next afternoon,” Seitz said.
Seitz was told to go home and rest to allow his body to recover. The first few days he would get light headed or dizzy just moving around his house.
Road to recovery
After a week his unexpectedly showed up at FC Dallas training because he was going stir-crazy sitting at home. He barely made it one lap walking around the field.
Seitz, working with FC Dallas head trainer Skylar Richards, soon set out on his rehab plan. Before the surgery, Richards worked with multiple resources like Texas Health Resources, Texas Back Institute and various universities to create a plan to get Seitz back on the field.
Seitz had baseline tests - bone density scan, functional movement screen, body composition test - before the surgery as well.
"It's absolutely the first time I’ve had to rehab this injury site as well as do it with someone with lower bone density because it’s all been sucked out through a needle," Richards said. "It’s absolutely unique. He didn’t have an injury to cause this. This was incision wounds to his back."
The plan involved a lot of work in the pool so Seitz could regain strength without stressing his bones or joints.
“I could start with jumping in water, underwater treadmill and start working up until I had pretty much done everything under water,” Seitz said.
With FC Dallas’ season over this weekend, there’s not a sense of urgency in rushing back. In fact, no one, including Seitz, wants to push too hard too fast.
“The marrow comes out of your long bones. As a goalkeeper you do a lot of body hits, you hit the ground a lot,” said Hyndman.
Seitz will be re-tested sometime this week to see how close he his to his baselines. If all goes well, next week he will begin diving and ball handling for the first time since the procedure.
"We’ll take our time with that and make sure we don’t put Chris at risk at all," Richards said.
Seitz said he will continue to rehab and train over the offseason and expects to have no lingering issues by the time preseason rolls around in January 2013.
One day, he would like to meet the person he helped.
He knows there’s no guarantee that will ever happen – both sides would have to agree to such a meeting and it can only occur if the patient is healthy.
Seitz knows he’ll be getting a lot more questions and attention about undergoing the procedure, but said he didn’t do it to bring attention to himself. He just wants to shine a light on how people can make a difference by getting swabbed and potentially saving a life.
“I’m thankful FC Dallas and everyone let me go through with it,” Seitz said. “You’re giving someone else an opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”