Former teammate of Safken donates bone marrow to help woman in need
Sam Safken had one prevailing wish before he died.
Next week, a national audience will learn wishes do come true.
Safken told his family he wanted more people to donate bone marrow before his death from complications of Ewing’s sarcoma in September 2006.
A few months after his death, his University of Northern Colorado football teammates were tested for bone marrow donation and Mike Van Portfliet’s DNA matched a woman in need of bone marrow.
“Someone called me and told me I was a potential match,” said Van Portfliet, who enrolled at UNC when Safken died. “I said, ‘Great. What do I need to do?’ ”
The Parker native went to the Greeley Medical Center to get blood drawn. A couple weeks later, he received a call confirming he was a match for a patient in need of bone marrow.
“That was crazy,” Van Portfliet said. “That shook everything up a bit, but of course I’ll do it. It’s a chance to save a life.”
His bone marrow donation is giving a woman a chance to fully recover and live a normal life.
The 2008 Allstate Good Works Team player is being honored for it. Van Portfliet’s story will be told at halftime of the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 between Utah and Alabama at 6 p.m. on FOX.
“I’m not worried about awards,” Van Portfliet said. “Being on TV during the Sugar Bowl is good enough, right? It’s an award enough to have the chance to save a life.”
Safken’s mother, Linda Mulleady, will be in the segment as well.
“I am excited,” Mulleady said. “I usually don’t watch the Sugar Bowl, but I’ll be watching it this year.”
Van Portfliet is one of 22 college football players selected to the Allstate Good Works Team.
They were selected by a committee for their heroics off the field.
Although his willingness to donate bone marrow is being recognized as heroic, Van Portfliet was happy to endure the lengthy procedure to help a person in need.
“It wasn’t as bad as you would think,” Van Portfliet said. “I went in and got shots in my stomach so they could take my stem cells. I was in there five hours.”
A bag of his bone marrow was shipped to the woman.
Van Portfliet received an update on her condition in one month. About a month ago, he received a six-month update that she is getting back to daily activities and is on the road to
“Around the time I was going to get the update I was excited,” Van Portfliet said. “I ended up calling and talking to my representative. I couldn’t wait. She said, ‘Oh, yeah, I was just about
to call you.’ It’s an awesome feeling helping someone.
“I’ve heard Sam was an awesome, awesome guy. I wish we could’ve know him more. I wish I met him. You want to know the person that helped you do this.”
As a result, Safken’s wish carries on.
“This is what Sam wanted for people to live good lives after a bone marrow transplant,”
Mulleady said. “It restores your faith in young people they would do something like that. It’s not an easy thing to do. He took time out of his busy schedule. I think it’s admirable. Hopefully it will break the way for more people to do it. It’s not a hard thing to do.”