Sports

College Football Player Donates Bone Marrow to Save Young Man's Life

He gave up playing his first season at his new school to help a complete stranger.


Emotions were running high at the William & Mary football team's practice last Friday. The team was getting hyped for the following day's game, but the real excitement came later, when 21-year-old Rusty Plemons walked across the field to meet the man who saved his life.

Plemons was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2016 when he was 18 years old, the same year that Mark Williamson was preparing for his freshman year at W&M. As part of the college's tradition, Williamson and his teammates joined Be the Match , an organization that connects people with life-threatening illnesses to potential bone marrow donors.

Turns out, Williamson was a perfect match for Plemons, who needed a transplant as part of his treatment plan. While it would mean that Williamson would miss his first season on the team, he said the decision was obvious.

"I have two parents with huge hearts, and I knew where the coaching staff's hearts lied," Williamson told The Washington Post . "It was a very big privilege to be able to say yes, right then and there. I didn't have to think about it or weigh my options."

Williamson's decision brought some much-needed relief and hope to the Plemons family, who had been preparing for the worst as Rusty's health steadily declined.

"To watch him go through that was absolutely heartbreaking for me," Plemons' mom Brandie Cobb said. "We had a lot of really deep conversations because there were possibilities either way and the hospital didn't hide the bad possibilities. I never thought I would be doing a living will with my 18-year-old child."

"He's just awesome. I've learned about how strong he can actually be, that's for sure." - Brandie Cobb

After the surgery Williamson returned to W&M and cheered on his teammates from the sidelines as he recovered. While Plemons had a few setbacks and hospitalizations over the past few years, he has made great progress and is about to start working as a package handler at UPS. His mother says he's the healthiest he's ever been.

Because of Be the Match's confidentiality policy, the two young men weren't able to have any contact with each other for a year after the surgery, but after organization connected them about 6 months ago Williamson invited Plemons to a football game. Plemons accepted and he and his mother made the 8 hour journey to W&M, where he got to meet Williamson in person for the first time.

In a heartfelt moment, Plemons and Williamson embraced on the field as Williamson's teammates rallied around them and cheered. Plemons was given a jersey with both of their names on the back.

"I'm not one to go out in crowds and stuff, but I think of all the people who might sign up because of this," Plemons said. "So many people could be a 10 out of 10 match. I'm hoping it just blows up to where everyone signs up. I didn't know anything about it until I was diagnosed, and now I'm really grateful for it. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for him."

If you're interested in becoming a donor for Be the Match, click here for more info . You can also provide a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here .

Just a heads up! Wednesday November 13 is World Kindness Day. Why not look for ways to be of service, and #StartSomethingGood on that day - or any day?

(Source: images & video William & Mary Tribe Football Facebook )

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