Steve’s friends joke that he started visiting colleges in the eighth grade, and Steve says they’re not far off. So when his friends started leaving for school while he prepared for his transplant, he grappled with feeling happy for them as well as angry and frustrated.
“I worked very hard in high school, and had anticipated going away to college for a long time, so I was very disappointed,” he says. His years of football training came into play. “While my friends were away at school, my mission was to put my head down and grind through the transplant process so that when they came back, I’d be healthy and able to go to college.”
At first, Steve hung on to his plans of playing football at Lehigh University, which had recruited him before he became ill, but he soon realized that his life had started down a new path.
“Ultimately, I knew it would be challenging to move on from my illness and create a new identity at Lehigh after everyone was so supportive of me there,” says Steve. “Deciding to go to school somewhere other than Lehigh was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. But I really wanted to start fresh, so I decided to apply to University of Michigan.”
He was accepted in March 2015 and by August was headed to the Midwest. Tara recalls how helpful Dr. Satwani was throughout the process; he was available to the family 24/7 by phone and text, and even connected them with an oncologist friend who worked at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
“That made me feel better that, should anything happen, he was there,” says Tara. “It was really hard for me seeing Steve go so far away. At this point, he still didn’t have a complete immune system and was in the process of being revaccinated. But, thankfully, he did pretty well.”
The brothers are now both juniors. Steve is studying finance, with a minor in writing — and has written about his experience — and Mike is studying physical education at Montclair State University. They are planning a trip to Italy in 2018, just the two of them, to celebrate Mike’s 21st birthday.
Since the transplant, Steve sees Dr. Satwani about once a year, along with a number of other specialists and has had only a few setbacks, including being treated for cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes enlarged. In Steve’s case, it was related to the chemotherapy he had received.
“All things considered, Steve is doing extremely well,” says Dr. Satwani. “He was very upbeat that he was going to get better, that he will remain leukemia-free. That positive attitude, with his ability to understand and follow instructions, made a huge difference.”
“Dr. Satwani is the first on Steve’s wedding guest list, whenever that happens,” Tara says and laughs. “I could never repay NewYork-Presbyterian — they have literally saved both of my boys!”
The whole experience has made the entire family grateful for the little things.
“Being a bone marrow donor has made me stronger as a person, now knowing what type of an impact it has on people,” says Mike. “I find myself not stressing about little things anymore, because I know things can be a lot worse.”
Although his life looks far different than he imagined, Steve couldn’t be more thankful for this second chance at life. “Mike will never be able to understand how much he truly means to me,” he says.