The perfect match: CU's Derek McCartney meets the man whose life he saved

It was a special moment when CU linebacker Derek McCartney got to meet the man whose life he saved.

KUSA - Time is a gift that we often want more of. It's one that can rarely be given. 

A senior day celebration for an athlete marks the end of an era, with the clock expiring on a college career. 

University of Colorado linebacker Derek McCartney played his final game at home this past Saturday with his biggest fan in attendance. 64-year-old John Steele--who lives in Nebraska and is a Huskers fan--came all the way to Boulder to cheer for number 95. 

His first trip to the city answered a big question. 

"As far as curiosity goes, I didn't know who this great person was," Steele said. "I couldn't wait to find out."

Last year, McCartney walked in to Bonfils Blood Center after learning that he had matched as a stem cell transplant donor. 

Derek joined the registry as a freshman at CU, participating in the team's yearly blood drive hoping to help anyone. He would. 

About a year later, in Cornhusker territory, Steele received devastating news from his oncologist. 

"He said he wanted me in the hospital the next morning," Steele said. 

In December of 2014, John was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He started chemotherapy to treat it, and ultimately decided on a stem cell transplant. 

The doctors went to the registry and found that McCartney was a perfect match. 

In march of 2016, John had the procedure. 

On that day, he monitored incoming flights, trying to guess where his life line was coming from. He never would have guessed Boulder. 

Neither of the two knew much of anything. 

The donor and recipient of a transplant can't know one another's identity for a year. It was a long wait. 

But, the first contact the two had finally came through an email. So, what was John's first question to Derek?

"How does it feel to have a 64-year-old son?" Steele joked. 

It might seem backwards, but the college student did give John life, and didn't ask for much in return. 

"I just want him to be a Buffs fan," McCartney said with a laugh. 

It's a small part of the reason why John was invited to Boulder last weekend to see Derek play, but really, just to finally see, and meet him, in person. 

A day before the game, they got to make that happen. 

Words don't come easy in a time like that. And, they didn't for Andie, John's wife of 44 years. 

But a few were said.. 

"Thank you so much," she said to the man that saved her husband's life. 

The two separate families are now connected by blood. And, during that meeting, they shared a lot. 

John told stories about his fight with leukemia, and Derek reminisced about missing most of spring practice to be able to donate. 

"I was going through something that I'd never been through," McCartney told him. "But it was something that I was like, 'it could really help someone else'. And, I'm just really glad you're the guy I got to help."

What can possibly be said, for the gift of more moments?

"To have more time with my angel (his wife, Andie), I just can't describe it," Steele said. "When I went in to that hospital that first time, I didn't think I was coming out."

After the successful transplant, John is now back to being a father, a husband, an attorney and a whole lot more. It's all because of Derek. 

"The only thing you can say is thank you," Steele said. "There are no other words to express it."

For more information about joining or hosting a marrow registry drive, visit the following links: Bonfils.org/FightBloodCancerjoin.bethematch.org/gobuffs 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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