Leukemia survivor in Rochester still friends with man who saved his life

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A leukemia survivor is still friends with the man who, 25 years ago, saved his life with a bone marrow transplant performed at Strong Hospital.

At age 8, Chris Costello was diagnosed with leukemia, the most common cancer in children younger than 15. He received treatment at Strong in the 1990s, went into remission, but the cancer came back.

Chris needed a bone marrow transplant to treat his cancer but none of his family members were a match. However, Ed Suslovic, a man from Maine who registered as a donor right after college, was a perfect match for the then-10-year-old boy in Rochester.

After getting the transplant, Chris went into remission. He immediately wanted to meet his donor but had to wait one year. Chris first spoke with Ed during a 5 a.m. phone call and soon, they met in person.

Since then, Chris has gotten together at least once a year with the person who allowed him to battle cancer, with Chris sometimes visiting Maine and Ed sometimes visiting Rochester.

“To me, it’s the best thing I’ve done in my life,” Ed said. “Our families have become like one big family.”

Since his transplant, Chris has gone to college, has worked at Paychex for the past six years, and met his fiancée Chelsie. Ed will be at Chris’ wedding in September.

He has also supported the nonprofit his mother founded, Christopher’s Challenge, which holds bone marrow registry drives and fundraisers through golf tournaments.

Since forming in 1998, the non-profit has helped thousands of blood cancer patients at Wilmot. During the pandemic, Christopher’s Challenge, also sent meals monthly to Strong Hospital staff.

Chris said the compassion of Ed and the hospital staff allowed him to beat cancer and live his life.

“The bone marrow transplant saved my life and since then, everything has been going great,” Chris said. “I would just love for people to see that you can get through this and honestly live a completely normal life, where cancer isn’t what surrounds your every thought and every day.”

In 1998 when Chris got his transplant, Strong Hospital performed about 98 transplants per year. In 2022, that number has nearly doubled.

You can join the Be the Match bone marrow registry here.

Chris receiving treatment at Strong Hospital (Credit: University of Rochester Medical Center)