Major League Soccer player Chris Seitz and the Pennsylvania man whose life was saved by his decision to halt his soccer career and donate his bone marrow hope to meet in-person soon now that Seitz is back on the soccer field and the donor recipient, Philip Richiuso, is recovering.
“Either he comes to see me play here in Dallas or I’ll see him when I go up there,” Seitz told ABC News. “But we’re going to make it work. We’re going to make it happen.”
The reunion will be the conclusion of a nearly six-year journey for Seitz that began when he joined a bone marrow drive to help the wife of a former teammate who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Nearly three years later, as the biggest moment in his sports career was approaching, the 2012 MLS playoffs, Seitz got an email while he was home playing video games.
“I was kind of confused because it was originally just an email that said I could possibly be a match,” Seitz, 27, told ABC News. “I thought, ‘What does this mean?’”
Seitz, by then a goalkeeper for FC Dallas, found out exactly what it meant one month later when, after a round of screenings, he got word that he was a perfect match for a leukemia patient in need of a transplant.
“It was all pretty quick because it was not on my timeline, it was on his and when he needed the transplant,” Seitz recalled.
Not being on Seitz’s timeline meant that the call for the donation came as the soccer star’s wife was pregnant with their first daughter and his career was at a peak.
The news also came just after Seitz’s father had donated his own bone marrow to his brother, Seitz’s uncle, who was suffering from leukemia. The family connection gave Seitz the push he needed to put his soccer career on hold to save a stranger’s life.
“For me and my wife and my family it’s one of those things, you want to show good values and show the right way to do things for my daughter,” Seitz said.
Seitz also had to consult with his team’s athletic trainers and physicians who, despite the unknowns of how Seitz would react to the procedure and when, or if, he would return to professional soccer, gave him their support.
“It ended up that they said this is an extraordinary opportunity, to go for it and they backed me up 100 percent,” Seitz said.
Seitz underwent the transplant on Sept. 19, 2012, a procedure that he says involved poking 52 holes in his back in order to extract the bone marrow.
Seitz had by then missed the rest of the playoffs so he took his time to recover, at first training in the pool and spending the off-season regaining his strength.
Today, Seitz says he is “fully recovered” with “no serious scars” and “no battle wounds.” He is also back on the field for FC Dallas where, so far this season, he has started eight games, is tied for the third-best record in the league with 31 saves and has a 5-2-1 record, according to team officials.
The man who received Seitz’s bone marrow, Philip Richiuso, is now cancer-free and, in a strange turn of events, lives in Erie, Penn., close by where Seitz’s wife went to high school.
“It’s funny how all this works and goes full circle,” Seitz said.
Months after the transplant was complete, Richiuso, whom Seitz describes as in his 50s and with children of his own, left a “very touching” voicemail message for Seitz that led to a 45 minute phone conversation and a friendship that continues to this day.
“It was really interesting,” Seitz said of their first phone call. “You kind of play it out in your head, how it’s going to go, but you have no idea.”
Once Richiuso, who could not be reached today by ABC News, contacted Seitz, the soccer star says he wanted to go public with their story to encourage others to get tested to see if they are a bone marrow match.
“The whole idea of telling this story is pushing people to get out there and get swabbed and learn about the process,” Seitz said. “There’s no pain in getting swabbed and getting on the registry to help someone.”