Beyond the Game: Coach connects with young boy, his bone marrow donation recipient

Spencer Knight at practice (KATV photo).JPG

Spencer Knight has plenty of reasons to smile.

The wide receivers coach at Ouachita Baptist helped orchestrate a 10-0 start to the season. With Saturday's 35-10 win over No. 20 Southern Arkansas, the No. 4 Tigers won the conference title.

On top of that, for the first time, he's coaching at his Alma mater with his father, Todd Knight, the Tigers' head coach.

Yet there has been something else on his mind this season. Something else has made this a Fall to remember.

"He's always on my mind," Spencer said.

To understand, one must go back to 2011. That's when OBU football player Justin Waite was battling cancer.

"To see him go from this big football guy to just how frail he was and had lost his hair and was wearing a mask, and him talking to the team right before the game, really hit home with myself and my teammates."

Working with "Be the Match," the national bone marrow donor program, the entire team swabbed their cheeks to find a match and help their teammate. Justin, however, passed away a few weeks later.

Two years went by, and Spencer said he forgot about the swab. Then he got word he was a "match." While undergoing further physicals and tests, Spencer said he struggled with the decision to undergo the intensive surgery needed to donate. It was months before his senior season at OBU.

He decided to do it, even though he did not know the beneficiary.

"Once you go through that process, you kind of have that empty feeling because you want to know if the person you've transplanted, donated to is doing OK."

He went two and a half years in the dark, until receiving what he had long hoped for: an email from the mom of the beneficiary, a young boy named Simon in Canada.

Her email, sent in May 2016, read in part:

Hi Spencer, from December 24, 2013 Simon was notified of his donor, we always blessed your life, and think who is our angel. We have to say thanks you, my words fall short to tell you what you mean to us, you are part of our family. Simon is doing very well, he started school in September last year, his body is responding. During the winter he was more sick with the flu, Now he has enjoyed more. The doctors tell us that we must wait two more years to his immune system get stronger and it will not affect the GVHD. Thanks again for being our Angel and pray for our son. While reading your mail I could not help wanting to cry, you made my day, we finally have the opportunity to communicate with you. God is infinite.

Then, in December 2017, Spencer spoke to Simon on the phone for the first time.

"It was just such a cool experience just to talk to that little kid and to hear his voice. To visit with him for about 30 minutes.

"He didn't really understand that he was sick. He didn't understand, being so young, when he was three, so they had a hard time explaining what was wrong with him - what the transplant and donation really meant to him. So they told him that I was kind of like an older brother to him, kind of like a guy that looks out for him. So that was kind of neat."

This Fall, they are communicating regularly.

"It's really bigger than ball," Todd Knight said. "Just proud of him, proud to be his dad and proud to be coaching on the same team with him."

The call puts every play call Spencer makes during a game in perspective. The call is the real reason he can smile this season.

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