For Red Bank, NJ native, Scott Simonson Jr., no touchdown, big catch or even signing with the Oakland Raiders will ever give his father, Scott Simonson Sr. a more satisfying feeling than what he did for the family when he was just eight-years old.
“As a father I was so proud of him knowing how happy he was to receive that call,” Simonson Sr. said, on his son signing as an undrafted free agent last weekend. “But he knows he hasn’t had to do anything after what he did when he was younger to be my MVP. He doesn’t like to think of himself as Superman, but it saved his little sister’s life.”
In 2000, the Simonson’s learned that their youngest daughter, Shannon, was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow condition called fanconi anemia, which is an aplastic anemia. The rare inherited blood disorder prevents bone marrow from producing enough blood cells for the body to function properly. Fanconi anemia, also known as 'FA,' can also affect tissues and organs within the body, which can lead to other serious health problems as well as cancer.
“As a parent being told that your thirteen-month old daughter has something that there’s only been 1500 cases diagnosed ever world-wide, it changes your life. One day my life’s great the next it’s not and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
With doctors contemplating on which method they would use to treat the disease, one protocol was suggested that was never done before at the point in time. It would involve not using radiation during chemotherapy - a protocol unheard of at this time according to Simonson Sr.
“They came up with a new protocol that my daughter was the first person to qualify for,” explained Simonson Sr. “She would be the first person ever to be treated without use of radiation. But we needed to find a match in order to do it.”
After running several tests, doctors notified the family that their oldest daughter Kelsey and son (Scott) Simonson Jr., were perfect matches to donate bone marrow. With Simonson Jr. being the oldest, he knew he would be the one chosen.
“With Kelsey being five at the time and Scott being seven and also being the man, he knew it was going to be him,” explained Simonson Sr. “Scott didn’t even know what he had to do, but he knew he was saving his little sister’s life.”
With doctors wanting to wait until Shannon was between the ages of two and five before performing the transplant, Simonson Jr. would wait a year and a half before going into surgery.
During that time, Simonson Jr. excelled in numerous sports, including football. His father said it was a difficult time for the family and worried about how his son was handling it.
“It was a tough time for us all,” explained Simonson Sr. “Just having to wait for surgery made things tough but I wanted Scotty to enjoy playing the sports he loved still.”
As the months quickly passed, it was now surgery day. While Simonson Sr. and Jr. drove over to the hospital, the then eight-year old Simonson Jr. looked at his father with words that left a chilled down his spine.
“As we’re driving Scotty turns to me and says, ‘dad who’s gonna get my stuff,’” Simonson Sr. explained. “I looked at him and said, ‘Scotty what are you talking about.’ He then looked back at me and goes, ‘dad who’s gonna get my room when I’m gone.’ So now my mind is all over the place and I look back and ask him again, ‘Scotty what do you mean,’ and he looks at me not even upset or nervous and says ‘Well today’s the day I have to die to save my little sister’s life.’”
Despite being on the New Jersey Turnpike, Simonson Sr. quickly pulled-over full of emotion to embrace his son, letting him know everything was going to be alright - that he wasn’t going to die.
“Here’s this eight-year old kid ready to die because he thinks that’s what he has to do to save his little sister’s life,” Simonson Sr. said emotionally. “He’s sitting there not showing one ounce of care about himself because all he cared about was making sure his sister was going to be okay.”
After an emotional car ride, the Simonson’s arrived at the hospital. Simonson Jr. was rushed into surgery and the procedure began. For this procedure, doctors took bone marrow out of two spots in his lower back down by his hips by drilling into bones where the largest reservoirs are located.
At the conclusion of Simonson Jr.’s surgery, doctors prepared for Shannon’s transplant of bone marrow. Her transplant was a success, leaving the family “blessed,” Simonson Sr. said.
According to his father, the selflessness Simonson Jr. has demonstrated since his childhood days, both on-and-off the field is what he’s most proud of as a father.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Simonson Sr. said. “I couldn’t be prouder of not only him but the way the rest of children have grown. We made it clear to our children to do everything in life with class and that it’s never just about you. I told Scotty, when he was younger, if I ever see you spike a football I’d be the first person to pull you off the field. When he scores a touchdown and runs over to hand the ball to the ref that’s what’s most satisfying as a father to see.”
Simonson Jr. left for Oakland this past Thursday for Raiders' mini-camp and will return to New Jersey at the conclusion of OTA's in mid-June. Simonson Jr. looks to become the first Assumption College (D2) football player to make an NFL 53-man roster in school history. Jake Fahey remains as the only Assumption player ever to dress for a preseason game in the NFL, when he signed as a kicker for the New England Patriots in 1986. Fahey was cut prior to the '86 season.
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