FC Dallas' Chris Seitz meets his bone marrow recipient, two years after life-saving transplant

FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz has made plenty of memorable saves in his nine-year MLS career.

But none are more memorable than the one Seitz made on September 19, 2012, when he had surgery to donate bone marrow to a man who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – a decision that forced Seitz to miss the remainder of the 2012 season and ultimately led to him winning the 2012 MLS Humanitarian of the Year award.

Fast forward two and a half years to Saturday’s 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy, and Seitz finally got to meet the man whose life he saved for the first time.

Phil Richiuso of Erie, Pennsylvania, traveled with his daughter Jessica to Toyota Stadium on Saturday after years of recovery – something that many with his diagnosis do not get the pleasure of experiencing after such a serious illness.

“It’s a relief to finally get to meet a man who gave you life,” Richiuso told MLSSoccer.com. “I thank God every day for him. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t pray for him or think about him.

“I hope his back is alright, because he’s going to get a big bear hug today.”

The bear hug comment was said in jest, referencing the minor back injury that Seitz has nursed in recent weeks. But there is a serious undertone as well, as Seitz’s operation included 52 needles being inserted into his lower back, forcing a recovery of his own where even walking a lap around the track was challenging.

Before Seitz elected to go through with the procedure, he was finally beginning to make progress with the club. He had just started three consecutive games to spell an injured Kevin Hartman, his first stretch of that length since his Philadelphia Union days in 2010.

So the fact that he was willing to jeopardize his entire career made Richiuso and his family that much more grateful.

“It makes you feel more special that somebody is willing to give up their career,” Richiuso said. “He was willing to give up everything to save somebody he didn’t even know.

“You don’t know what kind of person you’re going to give marrow to. You don’t know where they came from. So for someone to just say, ‘Listen, I don’t care, I’ll risk my career. I want to save a life.’ … It just hit home.”

Of course, the two did stay in contact before meeting for the first time on Saturday night. Typically recipients and donors are not allowed to speak to each other for about a year after the operations, due to the fact that some are not successful.

But almost immediately after receiving Seitz’s contact information after a successful operation and recovery, Richiuso made the call.

“I call him, and of course I get his voicemail,” Richiuso recalled. “I’m trying to think of something to say, and I don’t usually get stuck for words. So all I can say is, ‘Hi, my name is Phil Richiuso. You saved my life. If you’d like to talk to me, give me a call back.’

“Within seconds, he called back and we’re both kind of crying back and forth and realizing the gravity of it all.”

To call the experience an emotional one would be an understatement, for both men. The goalkeeper went through a similar experience in his own family, when his father was a match for the younger Seitz’s uncle, who was also diagnosed with leukemia.

Unfortunately, their procedure did not have a similar ending.

“I had something similar happen with my uncle, and my father was a match for him. But it wasn’t as successful,” Seitz told MLSsoccer.com. “So to be able to see it work and see [Richiuso] continue to not only live, but to be happy and in good spirits and to be able to travel is huge.

“That’s the most special part for me.”

Richiuso had never been a soccer fan and did not even know who Seitz was prior to receiving his contact information. But he now considers himself an FC Dallas fan after years of primarily following the New York Yankees.

He even joked with Seitz during their first phone conversation that his body was starting to understand the game as well.

“I told Chris at the end of the conversation, ‘I can’t get your good looks, but boy, my right foot has this habit now that it wants to kick a ball!'" Richiuso said with a laugh.

More importantly, he has gained new life – both physically and emotionally – from being forever connected to Seitz in a way that most people will never understand.

“It’s just been a blessing,” Richiuso said. “A thousand days and counting, and I’m happy for every one of them.”