Family gains three new members after bone marrow transplant connects two men

Two men who had never met are now connected for the rest of their lives, thanks to a magic show.

“It was my freshman year and there was a magician who came to Texas A&M to perform,” said Justin Benden, who now lives in Detroit, Michigan. “During his show, the magician talked about being the recipient of a bone marrow transplant and how it had saved his life.”

When the show was over, Benden and others at the school had the opportunity to sign up with Be The Match, the international organization charged with maintaining the bone marrow donor registry. For him, it was a decision he knew was right for him.

“When the magician talked about signing up to be the match for someone, I knew that was something I wanted to do,” Benden said. “I never thought I would actually get the call to be a donor, but I knew it was the right thing to do.”

That call came in early August 2015 after Lance Goninan of Augusta learned he had acute myeloid leukemia. It was not Lance’s first run-in with cancer. But, unlike his previous fights, he was going to need an assist to take care of the disease this time.

“In the summer of 2015, Lance was feeling sick, but we didn’t know why,” said Emily Goninan, Lance’s wife. “They scheduled a bone marrow biopsy and determined Lance had leukemia.”

Emily, Lance and their family decided they were ready for a new fight. With their blessing, Dr. Jeremy Pantin, interim director for Bone Marrow Transplant program at Augusta University started the search for a bone marrow transplant donor.

“For our entire family, it was devastating news,” Emily said. “But, it turned into something good. Now, we have two more grandchildren and our first great-granddaughter.”

The Goninans met these new additions to their family for the first time on April 12, when they flew Benden, his wife Rachael and their 2-year-old daughter Elise to Augusta for a face-to-face meeting.

The following day, April 13, both families spent the morning meeting the doctors, nurses and other staff at AU Medical Center and the Georgia Cancer Center who cared for Goninan during his transplant and follow-up treatment. It was a chance for two families to say thank you. They even had the chance to visit with Augusta University President Dr. Brooks Keel and Russell Keen, Executive Vice President for External Relations.

“What I did was just a small part of helping Lance,” Benden said. “He is the real hero with all he’s had to endure in his life.”

It’s a life that, thanks to Benden’s life saving donation, now includes seeing his granddaughter graduate high school, his daughter take over guardianship for a new grandson and a family trip.

Representatives with Be The Match said college-age students are the perfect people to join the registry. If you or someone you know would like to sign up to be the match for the next person in need of a bone marrow transplant, register at Be The Match or find the nearest donor drive. All it takes is filling out a little paperwork and a simple cheek swab.

About AU Health’s Transplant Program

Augusta University Health is home to the 14,000-square-foot Carlos and Marguerite Mason Solid Organ Transplant Center, and over 2,600 lifesaving kidney and pancreas transplants have been performed at the medical center since 1968. AU Health is one of 19 hospitals in the United States and the only medical center in Georgia, to be selected to take part in the initial Collaborative Innovation and Improvement Network that aims to improve kidney transplantation nationwide. AU Health is also a two-time national Kidney Transplant Center of Excellence.

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Written by
Chris Curry

Chris Curry is the Communications Coordinator for the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-799-8841 or

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Written by Chris Curry

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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