by Carol Thompson
As the landmark 30th anniversary “Celebration of Life” Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Reunion nears, baseball legend Don Baylor is the second hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) patient featured in Hope News. His story is one of courage, hope and the power of a strong team.
As an American League Baseball All-Star power hitter, coach and manager, Baylor, 56, knows that winning a game requires a talented team and a clear game plan. When he faced cancer in 2003, Baylor had the benefit of both.
It was during a routine physical at the start of spring training that Baylor, at the time the bench coach for the New York Mets, discovered he was severely anemic. Although he had been feeling fatigued, he felt that “athletes just keep going.”
But further testing concluded that Baylor had multiple myeloma (MML). Stunned, but refusing to assume defeat, Baylor spoke to Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. Stottlemyre was diagnosed with MML in 2000 and underwent a successful stem cell transplant. “He was real life-support,” Baylor said. “It was encouraging to speak to someone who had the same diagnosis and is still working.”
Baylor began treatment in New York and completed the 2003 season without missing a day. During that time, his wife, Becky, immersed herself in research on MML, and the Baylors contacted the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, where they received enormous support and guidance. When the Baylors decided to return to their home in California during the off-season, they were directed to City of Hope Cancer Center.
His physician, Stephen J. Forman, M.D., promised to optimize Baylor’s chances to make the Mets’ opening day in 2004. Baylor underwent an autologous stem cell transplant in February, and after 18 days, he was able to return home.
“Our entire team was fantastic,” said Baylor. “From the Mets organization to the staff at City of Hope, we were fortunate.”
Baylor also appreciates the routine exams “forced” upon him throughout his baseball career. “I want to encourage men, especially African-American men, to not put off going to a doctor. Routine checkups can save your life.”
After completing the 2004 season with the Mets, and 2005 with the Seattle Mariners, Baylor is enjoying frequent golf rounds and looks forward to his next managing opportunity, where his passion for baseball - and life - can be shared with a team.
The 30th Anniversary “Celebration of Life” BMT Reunion takes place April 21. The annual reunion draws several thousand attendees to the City of Hope campus each spring.
Formed in 1976, the City of Hope HCT Program has received continuous funding from the National Cancer Institute for 24 years.