Her hair was falling out in clumps. And there was nothing he could do.
As a former college football star, Mike London was accustomed to making a key tackle, snagging a momentum-changing interception, willing himself and his teammates toward victory. Now his only course of action was to fight back the salty puddles that spilled out of his eyes.
But at that moment back in 2003, as he sat helplessly while his wife was combing his daughter Ticynn’s hair at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, as his beautiful baby girl was in the midst of radiation treatments for Fanconi’s amemia—a blood disorder that leads to bone marrow failure and, subsequently, leukemia—he knew that she was becoming weak. If she didn’t receive a bone marrow transplant, she was going to die.
With tears trickling down his wife’s cheeks, as the comb pulled mounds of his daughter’s hair out while she sat coloring, Ticynn looked up and said matter-of-factly, “Just tell the nurse to cut it all off,” before focusing back on her crayons and on the picture she was creating.
“It was probably the most significant life-altering thing that happened to me,” said London, the head football coach at the University of Virginia, becoming visibly choked up at the recollection.
He was the defensive-line coach and recruiting coordinator on Al Groh’s UVA staff at the time, driving from Charlottesville to Baltimore to be with his family in the hospital whenever he could.
But finding a matching donor was proving impossible. Ticynn was running out of time. They exhausted nearly every search option possible. In a Hail Mary effort, the doctors tested London, despite the fact that parents seldom make suitable bone marrow donors for their children.
“They told me the chances were very slim, very rare,” said London. “I can’t describe the feeling when they told me that I was a match.
“She just finished her first year in college,” he continued. “ She’s on the dean’s list. So when people talk about playing the toughest schedule in college football, or when they said I couldn’t become the head coach at this place, when they say, ‘You can’t do this,’ are you kidding me? All things are possible!”
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