Cycling across country, man thanks marrow donor

Kent County

CALEDONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Ten years after a Kent County man saved his life with a bone marrow transplant, Bob Falkenberg is bicycling across the United States.

It’s a grueling ride, but his journey to recovery has been, too.

“I was perfectly healthy one day, and about four days later I was getting in-patient chemo,” Falkenberg told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday afternoon.

He stopped in Caledonia during his cross-country ride, visiting bone marrow donor Jason Rottman.

“He saved my life, literally,” Falkenberg said. “I would’ve died. It’s that simple.”

Falkenberg, now 62, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009.

Rottman had signed up for a donor registry when he was a freshman at Calvin College. Six years later, he got the call: Someone needed his help.

“I believe it changes your outlook on life,” Rottman stated, “just seeing Bob and seeing his amazing recovery that he’s made and that you were able to play even a small role in that.”

Falkenburg is making his Lifeblood Ride with a fellow transplant recipient, Annie Lipsitz, who also beat cancer.

Bob Falkenberg Be The Match
Bob Falkenburg and Annie Lipsitz are biking from Vancouver, Canada, to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, to raise awareness for bone marrow donation. (July 9, 2019)

The two left Vancouver, Canada, June 3 and expect to arrive in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, July 30.

Navigating leukemia and other diseases is, at times, similar to the unpredictable weather and bumpy terrain of their trek across the nation.

“He’s crazy,” Rottman laughed. “I could not do it. I’m amazed that he’s able to pull this off. He’s living his life to the fullest ever!”

Falkenberg, whose wife is also a cancer survivor, said he wants to bring hope to patients while also encouraging new donors to help fill a critical need.

The call for donations from minority groups is even more urgent. Falkenberg said that African-Americans only have a 30% chance of finding a match. He said it’s even less for people of mixed races.

“It’s a pretty rough process and you wonder what the rest of your life is going to be like,” Falkenberg said.

Rottman described the donation of bone marrow stem cells as a quick and painless process.

People who register to donate still have the choice to decline if they’re called. Obviously, donation organizations and patients hope that will not be the case.


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