By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — When Cameron Lyle woke up Tuesday morning, he was stunned.
Lyle, a Plaistow resident, looked at his phone and saw message after message from unknown numbers on his cell phone.
The 21-year-old has had a whirlwind couple of days, capped off Wednesday when he underwent surgery to remove bone marrow to help an anonymous recipient, who has life-threatening leukemia.
“It’s been overwhelming for sure,” Lyle said yesterday. “I still have about 20 voicemails to listen to on my phone.”
The college senior didn’t hesitate last month when faced with the decision to trade the end of his collegiate athletic career for a chance to extend a stranger’s life.
Lyle’s story went viral after he made the decision to skip the final few track meets of his senior year at the University of New Hampshire to donate his bone marrow to a man who has only been given months to live.
At the beginning of the year, Lyle hoped to compete in the season’s biggest tournament, the America East Championships, May 4 and 5. Lyle finished in the top five in the shot put at last year’s tournament.
This year, his final at UNH, he will have to miss it as he recovers from his surgery.
Leading up to his surgery, he received messages of support from strangers who were fascinated by his story.
“It’s been really cool,” Lyle said. “Even Lance Armstrong tweeted at me with support.”
Lyle also received a tweet from U.S. Olympian shot putter Ryan Whiting. Former UNH hockey player James van Riemsdyk tweeted out the article. He also spoke on the phone to a track coach from Nebraska, who had heard his story.
He also has been flooded by media requests. After the story first appeared in The Eagle-Tribune Monday, Lyle said every major national news outlet contacted him. ESPN went to UNH and interviewed him for 45 minutes for a future in-depth feature on him, he said.
But despite all the attention, Lyle remains humble.
“This isn’t really about me,” Lyle said. “It’s about the guy who is dying and I really wanted to make that clear in all my interviews. I don’t want to look like a guy who is benefitting out of this.”
Lyle isn’t able to reveal his identity to his donor for at least a year, but he will write an anonymous letter to the donor sometime next week.
“I don’t know what I’m going to say to him,” he said. “I just hope he gets better and that I really want to meet him.”
Lyle learned he was a match several weeks ago. He was told his mouth swab, done when he was a sophomore, was a one in 5 million match for a non-family member.
While Lyle’s donor hopes to benefit directly, his story may have helped many other patients around the country.
Over the last few days, the number of people who have joined the Be The Match Registry has more than doubled, a spokeswoman said
“Cameron’s selfless decision to temporarily put his athletic career on hold to donate marrow to a stranger has truly inspired the public to action,” said Nadya Dutchin, national account executive for Be The Match. “By sharing his story and inspiring so many others to get involved, he is helping give hope to thousands of patients for years to come.”
Lyle was released from Massachusetts General Hospital yesterday and is recovering at his girlfriend’s house.
“It’s extremely painful,” Lyle said. “They took about 2 liters of marrow out.”
Doctors advised Lyle to relax for about a week, and to not do anything active for at least two weeks.
“After then, I will slowly start exercising,” Lyle said. “But obviously, no throwing.”
Lyle said he’s planning to return to school this weekend and will go back to classes Monday.
The business management major already has a job lined up after he graduates next month. He will work in the marketing department at Meadowbrook in Gilford.
“The people at school have been really supportive,” Lyle said. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails from UNH alums who have survived leukemia. Everyone keeps saying they can’t wait for me to get back there.”