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In life and recovery, Chris Crawford intends to 'press on'

Former PSU Vikings QB recuperating from bone-marrow transplant
by:  CHRIS CRAWFORD

He is in good enough spirits that you can kid Chris Crawford about his weight-reduction program.

Hell of a way to lose 35 pounds.

The former Portland State great is gaunt but on the road to recovery, two months after a bone-marrow transplant.

'I'm feeling tremendously better,' says Crawford, 44, who estimates he is about 40 percent back to health now. 'To be able to take my son to his baseball game, to take my daughter to volleyball practice. ... the little things I used to think were a pain in the arse are so much appreciated now.

'I have a different mantra as I go through this. It's life-changing.'

Crawford learned he had Myelodyslpastic Syndromes (MDS), a group of diseases that affect the bone marrow and blood system, during a routine physical examination last August.

Mind you, Crawford has been the picture of health through his entire life.

'I've always prided myself in not even getting colds,' says Crawford, national manager for team sales at Nike and an employee of the sports shoes and apparel company for 19 years.

Local fans remember Crawford as the 5-10, 185-pound quarterback who engineered the most successful Portland State teams of all-time in the late 1980s under the late Pokey Allen.

In 1987 and '88, Crawford's junior and senior seasons, the Vikings put together back-to-back 11-victory seasons and reached the NCAA Division II championship game twice.

The plucky left=hander was the team's offensive most valuable player and a co-captain both years. As a senior, he was a first-team All-American and runner-up for the Harlon Hill Award, given to the nation's outstanding D-II player.

Then came news that a blood test discovered his platelets were low and he had abnormal chromosomes. On Nov. 29 came the diagnosis of MDS -- formerly known as 'pre-leukemia.' He learned that he was at a higher risk to develop leukemia, and a bone marrow transplant was the only cure.

Today, Crawford refers to his transplant as 'this little setback.'

After diagnosis, you can imagine what was going through the mind of Chris and his family - wife Kristen and their children, daughter Payton, 14, and son Carson, 12.

About 10,000 Americans are afflicted with MDS, but Crawford is an unusually young case. The median age for diagnosis is between 60 and 75.

Crawford consulted a specialist at Oregon Health Sciences University, who delivered the cold, hard, news: He would need a bone-marrow transplant, the sooner the better.

The next step was the find a donor. There is an international donor bank from which patients can choose. The donor and patient don't require the same blood type, but must have at least eight of 12 'marks' to proceed.

Soon came a match - with a 23-year-old man from another country.

'My donor and I were 12 for 12, with the same blood type,' Crawford says. 'I was blessed to have someone so young and healthy to offer his cells.'

In January, Crawford was started on medications to stabilize his blood counts. Then came two rounds of chemotherapy and some radiation treatments.

On April 5, Crawford checked into OHSU to begin six days of chemo and preparation for the stem-cell transplant, to take his immune system to zero.

On April 13 came the procedure. A port was inserted in Crawford's chest and the transplant ensued.

'It's like a rejuvenation,' he says. 'You wind up with a completely new immune system.'

For five or six days, Crawford felt, in his words, as if he had been flattened by a 45-foot semi truck.

'You're low,' he says. 'It's hard to imagine that you can get to that point. But it comes back.'

Recuperation wasn't always smooth. Three weeks ago, Crawford was back in the hospital for four days due to side effects from medication. Since then, though, progress has been steady.

Last Saturday, Crawford had his first day on the town - lunch with his mother, dinner with his wife.

'Two of the best meals I've had in 44 years,' he says. 'Fantastic.'

Rules prohibit personal contact with Crawford and his donor for two years. After that, if both so choose, they can meet. In the meantime, Crawford has written a number of entries in a journal that the donor will receive.

'It's humbling to think somebody is out there saving your life,' he says. 'It's hard to know exactly what to say. But he'll receive a number of notes from me.'

Crawford's internally optimistic nature is a positive in his recovery. So, too, is his support team.

'I have a tremendous advantage,' he says. 'My wife, my family, my friends, my extended family at Nike, my ex-teammates - that's what gives you the strength to get through. And I can't say enough about the doctors I've worked with.

'There are times when you have to bear down and fight. That's where the game face gets put on. It's about accepting it and being at peace with it.

'I have to admit there were a few times through this process when I had to have a lot of self-talks. But the amount of support I am blessed with ... that gives you so much strength. There are a lot of good people out there.'

Crawford's blog on the caringbridge.org website has had nearly 7,500 visits. Among the photos on the site is one that his Nike co-workers surprised him with - 150 of them, wearing a 'Press On' T-shirt in his honor.

'Press on,' you see, is his motto.

Crawford's intention is to be a role model.

'I've never asked, 'Why me?' ' he says. 'I look at this as an opportunity to show my kids, my family, my friends that this is how we will get through this. We will be stronger coming through this.

'I don't wish this on anybody else. Let me take it. Let me be an example. Let me go through it. I really feel that way.'

Physically, Crawford is a shell of his former self, down to 160 pounds. He lost his hair. He wears a mask to protect against infection when out in public. His energy level has been down so low, he could barely walk up a set of stairs a couple of weeks ago.

His appetite has returned, though. The stamina and weight will come back. The hair will, too.

Press on, indeed.

Crawford encourages readers interested in becoming a donor to consult the national marrow donor program website marrow.org/join/index.html?src=tabjoin.

'It takes 10 minutes to sign up online,' he says. 'It's very easy to take a swab of your mouth, and you may save a life.'

Crawford won't return to work for at least another couple of months. He is confident, thought, that he will be back to full strength and good health soon.

A lot of people are pulling for him. You can understand why.