Retired maintenance worker Bill Allison of Puxico, Mo., was diagnosed with stage-four leukemia just over two years ago and, being in his 60s, was told his chances of finding a bone marrow donor were slim at best.
But then God stepped in, Allison said, in the form of a 19-year-old Baylor University student who, on a whim, joined a national bone-marrow donor registry at a 5K race around the same time.
“I couldn’t believe it when I found I had this young man in Texas,” said Allison, who is now 65 and attends a Baptist church in Poplar Bluff, Mo. “I was overjoyed that I found a donor because I didn’t think I was going to get one.”
He and Dillon Gasper, now 20, met for the first time earlier this month in Waco, one year after the college student’s gift of life was implanted into Allison body and began strengthening his ravaged immune system.
Gasper said the encounter was moving for him because it was only then that he learned how desperate Allison’s situation was until he signed the registry at the Waco Miracle Match Marathon back in 2012.
“He told me I was his only match ... and that tells me God was definitely in it,” said Gasper, who attended University Baptist Church in Waco when he signed the registry.
The race, and the 5K portion Gasper ran, was organized by Be the Match , a nonprofit that matches donors with recipients suffering from various blood disorders, including leukemia.
Not that it was his big plan going into the race. “I just happened to be at this race and sign up,” Gasper said. Nor did he think much would come of it. “I didn’t think I was ever going to have to donate, but I hoped for it,” he said.
That hope came from values instilled growing up in a strongly Christian family who worshiped at a Christian and Missionary Alliance church in his native Washington State. He attended UBC for a time after arriving at Baylor, and currently attends a non-denominational church. “I don’t identify strongly with any denomination,” he said.
But Gasper said he strongly identifies with Christ, and said he chose Baylor because of its strong Christian tradition. The university promotes a faith that believes heavily in helping others, he said — including someone three times his age that he’s never met who lives 600 miles away.
“I have someone who died for my sins so that I might live (as my) motivation and my desire to help someone else and give them another chance at life,” he said. “How many times does that happen in your life?”
And the process wasn’t as complicated as he had always believed. As a donor, he had only to undergo what looks and feels like a blood donation procedure.
“One of the biggest myths is that it is painful, and it is in fact a very pain-free process,” he said. "It took about three hours. I just laid there and read a book.”
The experience has been so powerful for Gasper that he has launched a Baylor chapter of Be the Match, and in coming weeks will be addressing other student organizations about the marrow donation process.
For Allison, that’s even more of a sign of God’s involvement.
“I couldn’t believe people were becoming donors at that age,” Allison said. “When I got down to Waco and found out a bunch of college students had signed up, I was overwhelmed.”