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Fencing Coach Marshal Davis' Stem Cell Donation Changes Two Lives

Fencing Coach Marshal Davis'
Stem Cell Donation Changes Two Lives

by Mark Anskis

Marshal Davis by the Associated Press
Marshal Davis, right, with the recipient of his donated stem cells, Jacob Kowalik, 7, at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Marshal Davis, head coach of the Swarthmore fencing team, barely remembered participating in a bone marrow drive at the University of Florida Hillel in 2002.  Nearly 10 years later when he found out that his bone marrow was a "near-perfect match" for one anonymous donor-recipient, he didn't think twice about donating to help save a life.

"For me it was a no brainer," Davis says. "To be uncomfortable for a month or whatever so that I can save a life ... was really an easy choice."


Read the AP story at  | Watch at Chicago's WGNtv

While traveling to Chicago with the Swarthmore fencing team for the USACFC Nationals last month, Davis got to meet the recipient of his recent bone marrow donation for the first time - a seven-year-old boy named Jacob Kowalik of Downers Grove, Ill.

Davis had been in contact with the Kowalik family since February and the two parties decided to meet while Davis was in the Chicago area. The first meeting between the one-time strangers took place at the family's home.

Jacob was diagnosed with MDS pre-AML Leukemia in June 2009. Thanks to Davis' donation and subsequent transplant, Jacob's chances of recovery are significantly improved.

Davis didn't know the age, gender, or circumstances of the person that he would be donating to; all he knew is that he could save a life.  It wasn't until a year later that Davis found out who had received his bone marrow. 

"A month after my donation, all I knew is that the patient was doing OK.  Six months later, they gave me another update and said he was still doing OK. They said he had some minor complications but ...that the cancer did not return," said Davis.

As for the fencing team, the young Garnet excelled at the championship meet. The women's sabre, women's epee, and men's foil squads all made the round of final eight, and all six weapon squads made it to the elimination rounds. Kevin Buczkowski '13 won an individual men's sabre medal in the individual event and Morgan Sulerzyski '12 made it to the individual final for women's epee. Overall, the Swat women finished in sixth place and the men finished 11th.

"I think it's remarkable that we are one of the newest programs in the country," Davis says, "have likely the smallest student body of any participating school to draw fencers from, and we finished as the sixth best overall team in the nation."

In his fourth year as coach after starting the fencing team at Swarthmore, Davis has built the program to be competitive at the national level. Last year, Swarthmore hosted the 2010 Fencing National Championships, the largest in the event's history.