Bay Ridge firefighter saves war vet’s life through bone marrow donation

A Bay Ridge firefighter saved a life without putting out a blaze or being in the line of duty.

Twenty-six-year-old Firefighter Michael McCauley of Engine Company 242 in Bay Ridge met the man who received his bone marrow donation, retired Marine Aaron Faulkner and his wife Leslie, for the first time during the 11th annual “Honor Roll of Life.”

Faulkner had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, necessitating the donation.

The ceremony, held at FDNY Headquarters in Brooklyn on Wednesday, March 4, honored McCauley and other FDNY members who became bone marrow donors.

McCauley learned during the summer of 2013 that his marrow was a match for that of someone in need of a transplant. The local firefighter was eager to help.

“I was excited and ready to go. Whatever this process is, let’s start it because someone’s life is on the line,” he explained. “I just want to help someone anyway I can do that. Whether that’s through work or through another means, it doesn’t really matter. There’s really no difference.” The transplant took place on October 14, 2013.

According to Leslie, the first encounter with McCauley was an emotional one. “It was a huge blessing for me to meet Michael because he saved my family,” she said. “We have two small children. It means the world to me to thank him in person.”

An emotional Aaron, who served in Iraq in 2003, described his reaction to his cancer diagnosis and his gratitude towards McCauley. “Your future is in doubt,” he said. “You have no idea how long you’re going to have. All I knew is that to have beyond 10 years required a bone marrow transplant, so without Michael I had no hope of seeing my children grow up.

“A lot of things people take for granted, like being there for high school graduations, teaching my little girl to walk, seeing her first birthday cake [were in doubt],” he went on. “(The donation) was such a little thing but it meant so much.”

McCauley stressed how easy it can be to save a life. “It really is easy to join this. I really don’t understand why one wouldn’t do it,” he said. “It really is just a swab of your cheek to get you into the program and once you’re a match, you may go for an additional test here or there. The donation process is just like donating blood.”

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro explained the significance of the ceremony over the years. “Through this outstanding partnership with the New York Blood Center and the Be The Match® Registry, our members are able to impact lives not only here in New York City, but well beyond our borders as well,” he said.

Nigro added that, to date, 171 FDNY members have donated bone marrow through the partnership. “The need for blood, bone marrow and stem cells is very real.”

Although Aaron, an electronics technician, remains on immunosuppressant drugs and disability, he looks forward to the future. “I’m chomping at the bit to get back to work. I have a lot of things I’m not allowed to do yet. I can get sick very easily. I should be off drugs within six months,” he explained. “You have to live each day for what it’s worth. Do all that you can and don’t wait until tomorrow for what you can do today.”

When asked what she had told her kids about McCauley’s action, Leslie’s answer was simple: “That he’s a hero and he saved their dad. And we got to meet daddy’s hero.”

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