Once robust, Steven Bonano used to say it wasn’t a job, but “a calling” for him to be a law enforcer and protect the innocent. A 30-year veteran of the New York Police Department is doing what he feels most uncomfortable doing — asking for help. He needs a bone marrow transplant to live and is relying on a kind stranger to be his match. He has no children and lives alone so his new employer has stepped up to help him.
Forest City Ratner Companies is asking those in the New York City area to register May 7 and 8, from 8am to 6pm, as a bone marrow donor to try to find a match for Bonano.
“Steven Bonano has served his city and his country, and now it’s our turn to serve him,” says Bruce Ratner, the executive chairman of the company who recently hired Bonano, as head of security.
Bonano served our country as a U.S. Naval officer and as a NYPD officer, and he was one of the first emergency responders during 9-11, working 16 hours shifts for many months after.
After retiring from the NYPD, Bonano continued working, protecting his community as director of security at Forest City Ratner. Then, in January of this year, he noticed a small bump on his leg and a lesion on his shoulder which would change his life as he knew it.
“I was in the supermarket one day, and I see a guy looking at me, and he said he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” says Bonano. “He was short of breath, and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him [for a long time]…I told him about my bump, and his story kind of scared me…I thought there was nothing wrong with me, because I felt 100 percent.”
After getting his bone marrow tested, Bonano, was diagnosed with, not Hodgkin’s, but Blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm (BPDCN) cancer.
“Only a couple of people in the world have this type of cancer,” says Bonano, breathing heavily. “I’ve been doing aggressive chemotherapy. I’ve been in the hospital — Sloan Kettering — fighting it since the Super Bowl.”
According to research by DeleteBloodCancer.org, Latinos and African-Americans are underrepresented in the bone marrow registry, and right now Hispanics make up only 3 percent of the national registry. Caucasians are 41 percent more likely to get a match.
“A patient and donor should have 10 characteristics in common,” says Jennifer Daniel from DeleteBloodCancer.org. “Generally, people from similar ethnic backgrounds are more likely to find a match, and since the registry is underrepresented in the minority population, it is that much harder to find a match. Oftentimes, people don’t get involved until it happens to themselves or their family.”
Among his long list of accomplishments, the half Dominican, half Puerto Rican also earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and has a pilot’s license. He also received the Police Combat Cross, the second-highest award in the NYPD.
“I’m mostly in the hospital — I haven’t been home much,” says Bonano, 50. “I’m extremely weak.”
He says as a member of the NYPD Hispanic Society, he volunteered for a bone marrow drive six to seven years ago, but now it’s hard for him to get a match.
Bob Thursland, assistant director of Forest City Ratner, has worked with Bonano five years, including at the NYPD, and he is hoping for the best.
“He’s a leader and a boss, but he never hammers that,” says Thursland. “One of the things that stand out in my mind is the amount of people he knew by name…I wouldn’t have followed him to another job in the private sector if I didn’t think he was a great guy to work for.”
Weak and gasping for air, Bonano doesn’t want to talk about his accomplishments or his work at the World Trade Center on 9-11. He says he doesn’t like talking about himself — he only did what he saw was needed.
“Sorry I don’t have a hero story,” he says.
If you are not in the New York City area, you can also register to be a bone marrow donor online.