Steelers Rookie Gets ‘The’ Call, Saves Life of Man Battling Cancer

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Christian Montano, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this spring, faces long odds to make the team, especially in an offseason shortened by the impact of COVID-19.

But Montano has already helped another individual beat the odds, saving the life of a New York man by serving as a bone marrow donor.

Montano, an offensive guard who played at Tulane University as a graduate student, recently told his story to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com.


Be the Match Registry Event at Brown University

The story begins during Montano’s freshman year at Brown University, with a drive for the national bone marrow registry run by Be the Match Registry. Be the Match works to sign up potential donors and match them with those in need of a bone marrow transplant.

“They do it every year … they do a mouth swab right on campus. I signed up as a freshman,” Montano told Varley.

Three years later, Montano received ‘the call’—a phone call from the Rhode Island Blood Bank, asking him to come in for several tests, as they believed he was a match with a male who was in his early forties.

Long story short, Montano went for blood work, and he was a “perfect match”—that is, “he matched on all 12 genes,” according to Varley.


Surgery at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Soon afterwards Montano agreed to go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to undergo the necessary surgical procedure. He recalls being nervous, as it was his first “real surgery,” but he recognized the difference he might be making when he saw how hard things were for the patients all around him in the cancer ward.

Montano didn’t know if he would ever hear from the recipient of his bone marrow; that decision is entirely up to the recipient. But a year later he got a call from a Jim Calhoun from New York, and the two had a chance to meet for the first time in May 2019 when Calhoun visited Montano’s house.

“My mom, myself, Jim’s mom, we all had tears,” Montano said. “But because of the radiation [Jim] wasn’t able to have tears. But his voice was cracking. He was the only one not crying.”

More than a year later, Calhoun and Montano are still in touch.

“We talk on a regular basis. We text each other at least once a week, giving each other updates,” Montana told Varley. “He was one of the first people to congratulate me when he heard about me signing with the Steelers.”

Speaking of the Steelers, Montano might face long odds when it comes to carving out an NFL career, but it’s not impossible. Plenty of undrafted free agents have had long, successful careers in Pittsburgh, including Ramon Foster, who Montano aspires to replace.


Ramon Foster’s Retirement Presents an Opportunity for Montano

Foster came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent from the University of Tennessee and played 160 games for the Steelers over the course of 11 seasons, primarily at left guard, but he retired this spring.

Today, Foster splits his time between Pittsburgh and Middle Tennessee, and appears to be well on his way to a career in broadcasting—this recent radio appearance in Nashville being a representative example of his skills.

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