NEW FAIRFIELD – The word hero has a different meaning to every person. For a family from Indiana, the word hero means nothing other than Cory Neumann.
In 2012, Bryson Spear was a one year-old boy battling a rare genetic disorder called Hurler Syndrome. After being told his only treatment option was a bone marrow transplant, his parents registered him with Be The Match world-wide bone marrow registry (BTM). While the family remained hopeful that a suitable donor would be found, they knew the chance of finding a perfect match was highly unlikely.
In the same year, New Fairfield resident Cory Neumann was a freshman at Western Connecticut State University when he’d heard there was a local college student by the name of Jon DeCasanova in need of a bone marrow transplant. Immediately, he signed-up to be a donor at the school’s BTM registry drive. “I called my mom and asked what she thought about registering. ‘I’ve been registered for years,’ she said, ‘just go ahead and do it.’ So I went to have the inside of my cheek swabbed, and that’s all there was to it,” said Cory.
Cory received an unexpected phone call in March of 2013 letting him know that, against all odds, he was a perfect match for a boy with Hurler Syndrome. “I was only told the gender, age and disease of the person, nothing else,” he said. Less than two months later, he was at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston undergoing a procedure to remove his bone marrow. “I had to spend one night in the hospital where a liter or so of marrow was removed from the back of my hip bone. I was sore for a little while, and had to take it easy for about six weeks,” he explained.
Although no direct contact was allowed with the recipient, BTM provided Cory with detailed updates throughout the year. At 12 months post-transplant, he was able to exchange anonymous letters with the parents; all letters were routinely screened by BTM before they were delivered. “They told me how grateful they were for all I did to help their son, and I was able to determine that they lived somewhere in the United States,” he said.
After both parties signed consents to exchange personal contact information, Cory received the long-awaited phone call from Indiana. The man on the other end introduced himself as Brian Spear, the father of Bryson. Finally, Cory had a name for the little boy so grateful for the second chance he was given. Bryson’s mom, Amy, was too emotional to speak with Cory but invited him to join a Facebook group called Prayers for Bryson, where she posted the following:
“After a year of anxiously waiting and wanting to know who Bryson’s life-saving donor is, we finally received his information today! Brian spoke with him on the phone … His name is Cory and he is from Connecticut. Cory we cannot wait to meet you and your family. We are so extremely grateful for everything you have selflessly done for Bryson. Without your life saving cells we were told Bryson would not make it past the age of 10. Thanks to you he can grow up, go to college and even have a family one day. Words just cannot reach the depth of thankfulness we would love to express. Cory Neumann welcome to Bryson’s Facebook page and our family!”
Cory was now able to follow the entire experience and view photos prior-to and post-treatment. “I saw the recovery and him becoming healthier. I was able to see him improve, which was awesome.”
In September of 2014, Cory received a call informing him that Bryson needed something more: a T cell donation, which is similar to a stem cell transplant. “I went out to the Rhode Island Blood Center; it took a few hours for the T cells to be collected, and then they were shipped out to where they needed to go,” he said.
After infusion with the T cells, Bryson began to show steady improvement over the course of the following months and years.
Bryson is now five years old and continues to grow bigger and stronger every day. With improvement in his health, being older and able to understand, the Spear family decided it was time to meet the person who changed their lives.
On Sunday, July 16, 2017, ten members of the Spear family drove from Indiana to Connecticut to personally say thank you to their hero. The private, emotional reunion took place at the Neumann home in New Fairfield. Jon DeCasanova, who is now part of the BTM organization and whose illness in 2012 brought Bryson and Cory together, was there to be part of the celebration. Cory stated, “It’s my hope that by sharing our story, more people will sign-up to be donors; it’s too important not to, and I think most people just don’t think about doing it.”
When asked how the past five years have affected him, Cory replied,
“Being blessed with the opportunity to be Bryson’s donor was more important to me than most may know. You really do not know what a life changing experience is until you have done something for someone who can’t repay you. Hearing Bryson’s parents’ and family’s sincere and heartfelt thank you were touching and humbling. From simple actions that I was asked to do, this family received hope and Bryson received a new shot at life. And Bryson has given me something I would never have had; a very special relationship that some may never be lucky enough to experience. So if you ever have the opportunity to give someone life, do it. Whether it’s a transplant or donating blood, there is someone out there who will forever be grateful for you. And there is no better feeling than that.”
If you are interested in being part of the “Be The Match” program, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, go to Bethematch.org and click on join to request a home kit, make a donation or be a volunteer.
Writer’s Note: Many thanks to Cory Neumann and the Neumann family for inviting the Town Tribune to be part of this very special event and for allowing us to share your story with the community.
By Marylou Schirmer