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Former College Football Player Who Donated His Bone Marrow Meets the Woman Whose Life He Saved

People logo People 3/11/2020 Joelle Goldstein
a person standing on a stage: Donor Martin Flatley and recipient Deedra Morgan finally got to meet in person over the weekend © Martin Flatley Donor Martin Flatley and recipient Deedra Morgan finally got to meet in person over the weekend

A former college football player who registered to be a bone marrow donor gave one woman a second chance at life — and after her long journey back to health, the pair finally had the opportunity to meet in person over the weekend.

Martin Flatley and Deedra Morgan both agree that the moment they got to meet each other face-to-face on Saturday night felt surreal.

“I was filled with joy,” Flatley, 26, tells PEOPLE. “All this waiting, all this time, and I finally got to hold and hear and really know this wonderful, strong woman. As soon as we embraced, I was like, ‘Yep. She’s family now.'”

“I was counting down the months and then the weeks and then the days,” Morgan, 32, adds. “I didn’t even know what to say. There were so many emotions going through me, I was speechless.”

The meeting was a long-time coming for the duo, who had initially connected via text message in September 2018, nearly two years after Morgan received the transplant.

a group of people standing on a stage playing a video game: Courtesy martin flatley Martin Flatley, Deedra Morgan, and her son Brayden © Provided by People Courtesy martin flatley Martin Flatley, Deedra Morgan, and her son Brayden

Flatley first joined the bone marrow registry in spring 2015 during a “Get in the Game” drive held by his football team at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in partnership with the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation.

Created by Villanova University’s former head football coach Andy Talley, the nonprofit organization recruits college football teams to host drives on their campus in hopes of increasing the odds of donor matches.

Flatley, then a 21-year-old junior, says he didn’t think twice about signing up to help someone in need.

“This has always been something I’ve felt that I’ve had the privilege of doing,” he explains. “This is my duty as a human being. I felt obligated to do this because I was healthy and capable.”

Around that same time, Morgan, who lives in Michigan with her young son Brayden, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). After undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Morgan was declared cancer-free by Christmas 2015.

However, in June 2016, doctors told her that her AML had relapsed and she would need a bone marrow transplant in order to survive.

“I was really scared. I felt like, ‘What if it doesn’t work?'” Morgan recalls. “‘Am I going to keep getting leukemia and then eventually die?’ All that I could think about was, ‘Am I still going to be here to watch my son grow up?'”

a group of people standing on a stage: Courtesy martin flatley Martin Flatley, Deedra Morgan, and her son Brayden © Provided by People Courtesy martin flatley Martin Flatley, Deedra Morgan, and her son Brayden

RELATED: 13-Year-Old Colorado Boy Meets His Life-Saving Bone Marrow Donor Who Is the Son of Undocumented Immigrant

Because her brother is only a half-sibling and her sister is mentally handicapped, Morgan says she had no other options but to rely on the registry and hope that a stranger could potentially save her life.

That stranger would end up being Flatley.

A month after Morgan’s relapse, Flatley received an email that he was a match for someone in need, but was only given Morgan’s age, sex, country of residence and cancer type. (The rest of her information was kept anonymous due to the registry’s privacy regulations.)

With no hesitation, Flatley, then 22, started the process to donate his stem cells in October at Hackensack Medical Center — all the while wondering if he would ever get the chance to meet his recipient.

“My biggest concern was ‘What if they don’t want to meet me?'” he admits. “I knew I wanted to meet her as soon as we possibly could.”

For Morgan, those feelings were mutual, telling PEOPLE, “I immediately wanted to know who the person was.”

Martin Flatley Martin Flatley in the hospital © Provided by People Martin Flatley Martin Flatley in the hospital

RELATED: 10-Year-Old Girl Shares ‘Deep Bond’ with Wisconsin Football Player Who Donated Life-Saving Bone Marrow

After the successful procedure, the pair were forced to wait a year before they could submit information and attempt to get each other’s identity. Then, Flatley never received Morgan’s initial request, which pushed the date back further.

But in September 2018, after Flatley expressed interest in getting Morgan’s information, the long-awaited day finally came.

“I decided to text him,” Morgan recalls once she received Flatley’s name, phone number, and email from her transplant team. “And immediately he texts back, and he was like in all caps, ‘Oh my God, I have been waiting for this day.'”

“I started bawling my eyes out,” Morgan adds. “I could not believe this was happening. I was so excited and so relieved that he actually wanted me to know who he was and that he didn’t want to remain anonymous.”

Still, they refused to chat on the phone or FaceTime, opting to wait until they could officially meet in person.

a group of people standing on a stage: Courtesy martin flatley Martin Flatley with Deedra Morgan and her son Brayden © Provided by People Courtesy martin flatley Martin Flatley with Deedra Morgan and her son Brayden

Unfortunately, plans to get together continued to fall through until this past weekend when they united at Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation’s 9th annual bash.

Held at the Valley Forge Casino Resort near Philadelphia, Flatley and Morgan were brought to the venue — and then strategically kept separate until their emotional meeting on stage.

“It was truly overwhelming,” Flatley says. “We couldn’t have been more fortunate to have it happen this way.”

“It was the most wonderful thing I’ve felt in so long,” adds Morgan, who was joined on stage by her now 6-year-old son. “I’m so grateful for him. He’s literally my superhero, my Superman. I now have another brother.”

With a second chance at life, Morgan says she feels “forever indebted” to Flatley for being so “selfless” and donating.

“I absolutely adore him,” she shares. “He literally saved my life. I don’t know what would have happened had he not donated.”

RELATED VIDEO: This 25-Year-Old Survived a Bone Marrow Transplant After Helping Over 50 Others Find Their Own Treatments

But for Flatley, he just hopes their story will encourage more people to follow in his footsteps and join the registry.

“It is a beautiful opportunity that brings people together like you’ve never been brought together with someone before,” he explains. “You’re giving someone a second chance at life that they wouldn’t necessarily have and it’s so simple.”

“Even if I had experienced far more discomfort [with the procedure], eight days of discomfort is worth saving someone’s life,” he says. “Hell, you could’ve made it a month, three months, it doesn’t matter. That opportunity to help someone, you don’t pass that up. It’s too easy of a price.”

For those interested in learning more about joining the bone marrow registry, click here.

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