Friday, January 19, 2007

The Bravest 'angel'
Friday, January 19th, 2007

Most of Samantha Alcazar's 18 years have been spent battling a rare blood disorder. But today she will meet the "angel" who gave her a new chance at life - and he will be wearing an FDNY uniform.

Samantha, who has shuttled between hospitals in Texas and her native Mexico, had been given little chance to survive until Firefighter Stephen Duffy provided her with a bone-marrow transplant and hope for a healthy future.

"I'm going to tell him that he's such an angel," said Samantha, who will meet Duffy for the first time today at FDNY headquarters, thanks to the New York Blood Center.

"He gave me so much. I'm super nervous and I'm probably going to cry."

Samantha, who was born in Guadalajara, was diagnosed with a low platelet count in her blood when she was 6 years old. Her health took a turn for the worse four years later when she began to suffer headaches and severe bloody noses.

In 2002, Samantha's platelet count fell to a dangerous 17, well below a normal count, which ranges from 150 to 400. Doctors diagnosed her with a rare - and often fatal - bone-marrow disease, Fanconi's anemia.

"They told her she needed a transplant and she needed it soon," said Samantha's mom, Claudia Alcazar, 35, who moved her daughter to San Antonio, Tex., in search of better medical care. "I prayed and prayed and waited for God to help us."

A year later, her prayers were answered.

Duffy, who is assigned to Ladder 16 on the upper East Side, had given a blood sample while in the Fire Academy and was told it perfectly matched what Samantha needed.

Though faced with a painful transplant operation, Duffy, 33, agreed to help.

"It's a tremendous feeling to help," said Duffy, an eight-year veteran of the FDNY. "In our job, you do get lots of opportunities to save lives but there's something different about this.

"It's more personal," said Duffy, whose older sister is fighting her own battle against breast cancer. "It's like giving a part of yourself."

Today at FDNY headquarters, the New York Blood Center, which facilitated Samantha's transplant, will honor 80 members of the department who have donated lifesaving bone marrow.

"Donating bone marrow, like running into burning buildings, has become a duty to firefighters in their desire to help others," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said. "In both cases, these are strangers, but that makes no difference to firefighters."

Samantha's mom said she can't wait to wrap her arms around the firefighter who saved her daughter.

"I have cried so many tears of sadness, now I can cry with joy," she said. "We are going to hug him so tight."

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