Matt Cooper likes to stay busy. He studies all the time to keep up his 4.0 grade point average, while still making time for cross country and intramural basketball.
But nowadays, Cooper pedals approximately 20 miles a day on his stationary bike indoors. He’d rather be out running track and field with his friends at Carmel High School, but instead he’s confined to a hospital room.
On Feb. 16, this 17-year-old junior was diagnosed was leukemia.
Cooper’s form of leukemia can progress quickly if not treated. Making things worse, Cooper discovered recently that he has a gene mutation that puts him at a higher risk. He needs a bone marrow transplant as part of his treatment and his family is looking for the best match for him.
Two blood drives are scheduled to help raise awareness and possibly find a bone marrow match. The first event is from 2 to 7 p.m. March 29 at Hazel Dell Christian Church, 14501 Hazel Dell Parkway. Another drive is scheduled for April 21 at Carmel High School for students and faculty.
Anyone can join Matt’s bone marrow registry by visiting join.bethematch.org/Matt.
In the meantime, Matt is stuck in his hospital room. His many friends have visited him — one visit included around 50 people according to his mother, Debbie — but now he’s limited to the same four visitors because of a flu bug going around.
“Matt sometimes looks at his hospital room as his jail cell,” Debbie said. “He’s such a social person. It’s tough being in the same room, day after day. He’s being strong. But he misses his friends.”
Debbie wishes her son could go back to school, but it seems unlikely since his treatments are expected to continue once a month for more than two years.
“What was really devastating is to find out he really can’t go back to high school,” she said. “For about a year after the bone marrow transplant, he needs to be in isolation. Can’t go to school. Can’t go to the gym. Can’t go to church.”
While Matt could sleep all day or play video games, he said he’d rather be productive with his time, even though he can get exhausted from fighting cancer. He tries to work out every day, something he was inspired to do after reading, “Every Day I Fight,” a book written by Stuart Scott, an ESPN anchor who died of cancer.
“That’s really motivating to read,” he said. “I don’t want the cancer to change everything in my life.”
Some days are tough. Like when he underwent his eighth treatment of chemotherapy while also dealing with his fourth spinal tap in the same day. Yet he doesn’t complain. The first words out of his mouth are thanks to everyone who has visited or sent him messages.
Susie Talbott Zweig, a friend of the Coopers for many years, said she wanted to find a way to help Matt, his mother Debbie, his father Shep, brother, Mitch, 20, and sister, Christina, 22. So she helped set up a GoFundMe page to help cover medical expenses and allow Debbie to quit her job and take care of her son full time for at least a year. The page is at gofund.me/nhpg9bb8 and already more than $18,000 has been raised.
“Matt’s just the kind of kid that everyone wants to help, because he cares about everyone else,” she said.
Angela Touseull of the Indiana Blood Center helped set up blood drives in Matt’s honor. Attendees can donate blood to help many people and also get a cheek swab to register for the bone marrow transplant registry. While it’s possible someone in attendance could be the perfect match for Matt, the goal is to help anyone who needs a transplant.
“Bone marrow will completely regenerate after about 4 to 6 weeks, and we can cure 70 different blood diseases with a bone marrow transplant,” Touseull said.
Debbie said Matt has undergone “more blood transfusions than I can count” to replenish platelets, so Matt wanted to find a way to help others like him.
“I just want to thank everyone who has given me support,” Matt said. “It’s been everything anyone could ask for and beyond.”
How to help
Host a Bone Marrow Drive – To speak with someone about hosting a bone marrow drive in your community or for volunteer opportunities, contact Angela Touseull at 317-916-5110 or email@example.com.
Donate to Matt Cooper’s family at https://www.gofundme.com/nhpg9bb8.
Tuesday, March 29 – 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Hazel Dell Christian Church, 14501 Hazel Dell Parkway
Open to the public; Anyone age 18-44 can register to be tested; Those age 45-60 can also register to donate with a $100 tax deductible donation.
Thursday, April 21 – Time TBD
Carmel High School – Students and faculty only