Craig Sager's Relentless Fight Against Leukemia

 

Craig Sager's once lustrous hair is down to a few unruly strands because of chemo, and on this day of hope a simple green T-shirt and blue shorts adorn the broadcaster known by millions for his ostentatious wardrobe and easy rapport with the NBA's elite.

He methodically extended a long, skinny arm to an IV pole holding the stem cells he is counting on to save his life. There was silence as he cradled the tube, watching the crimson liquid drip, drip, drip in a perfect cadence into the cannulai that feeds it into his cancer-stricken body.

TNT's beloved basketball broadcaster received a rare third bone marrow transplant to fight an aggressive form of leukemia. The 65-year-old Sager has battled acute myeloid leukemia since 2014 and announced in March he was no longer in remission.

Sager knows the odds are against him. Yet, he seems unfazed.

"I like to gamble," he told The Associated Press. "I like to bet on horses, I like to bet on dogs, I like to bet on a lot of things. I've bet on a lot of things with a lot higher odds than this."

Sager has twice before received a bone marrow transplant with stem cells and each time he went into remission for several months. His son, Craig Sager II, was the donor then. This time, an anonymous 20-year-old donor was considered a perfect match.

Sager has been hospitalized for a month and has another monthlong stay ahead. He hasn't thought a lot about the man whose bone marrow could change everything for him. But when he learned of his age, he expressed a half-serious concern.

"My only thing was I was afraid that when he signed up to be the donor, he may have been in some drunk fraternity house trying to impress his date," said Sager, with a smile. "And they call him up the next day and say: 'Want to come down to the hospital?' and he's like: 'What?'"

His fears turned out to be unfounded.

"He came through," Sager said.

The latest of nearly 100 procedures Sager has endured in his well-publicized fight was performed at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and took more than 10 hours to complete. Dr. Muzaffar Qazilbash, Sager's stem cell transplantation physician, researched thousands of such transplants at MD Anderson over the last 15 years.

"It's less than 1 percent of the total number of transplants," Qazilbash said. "It's very rare to have three transplants."

Sager, who has worked for TNT for more than three decades, says he's open to trying anything doctors think might help.

On Wednesday, five colorful balloons were tied to one side of his hospital bed. Several had birthday greetings and two said: "Happy birthday, it's your big day."

Festive, yes. But Sager was born in June.

"When you get stem cells they say it's your new birthday," Stacy explained. "So this is his fourth birthday."

Sager tried to downplay the pageantry surrounding the event, saying it wasn't "a big deal."

That earned a sweet, yet stern, admonishment from his beloved wife.

 

"It is a big deal," she said. "It's giving you life."

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