A Lifesaver Meets a True Fighter

March 17

When Evander Holyfield, Jr. registered as a bone marrow donor, he never imagined what a lifesaving decision it would be for Darian Craig, a teenager from Tennessee.

As it turned out, the son of the heavyweight champion boxer was the right match for Darian in more ways than one: She was a fighter too.

Darian was just 3 when she began her battle with the deadly cancer, neuroblastoma, and was given a 15% chance of surviving. While she beat the odds, Darian spent most of her childhood fighting Behcet's disease, a rare autoimmune disorder. The treatments included chemotherapy and radiation. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital,” said Darian. “It wasn’t a normal childhood.”

In September 2011, 17-year-old Darian was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood and bone marrow failure disorder. A bone marrow transplant was her best chance to survive. Since there was no match within Darian’s family, she had to find a donor in the national bone marrow registry.

Darian’s lifesaver turned out to be Evander, who had swabbed his cheeks at a DKMS drive in January 2011. Evander learned he was a match and donated his stem cells 11 months later.

Darian’s transplant was a success. "It's just amazing that I can live again,” she said. “I have one more chance to actually be able to do something."

When Evander and Darian met for the first time in May 2013 at the DKMS Gala in New York City, Darian’s mom, Tina, was overcome with emotion.

There are no words to describe how I feel," explained Tina. “He is my daughter’s angel – he saved her life.

Evander Holyfield Sr., who accompanied his son to the gala, presented Darian with an autographed boxing glove. “You’re a true fighter,” he said.

While 30% of patients can find a matching donor in their families, 70% must rely on a perfect stranger to step up and donate. The best chance for a match often comes when the patient and donor share the same cultural heritage. That’s what made the match between Evander and Darian especially rare; it’s unusual for people of two different ethnic backgrounds to have matching tissue types.

Evander said he felt grateful to give Darian a second chance at life, and hopes this story will inspire others to register.

Donating feels good,” he explained. “It’s a very important thing to do – to help someone and save a life.