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Phoenix Forward magazine

Student honored by MLB and People magazine

Kevin Burciaga

Shortly after Kevin Burciaga returned home in 2008 from a tour in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps, he received a call that would change his life — and that of a complete stranger.

The call also would eventually lead the former military police officer to be recognized at baseball’s 2013 All-Star game in Queens, New York, as part of the annual Tribute for Heroes campaign, sponsored by People magazine and Major League Baseball. The national initiative recognizes veterans and active-duty servicemembers for heroism on and off the battlefield.

When Burciaga enlisted with the Marines in 2005, he also volunteered for the U.S. Department of Defense bone marrow registry. In June 2008, Burciaga got word that he was a perfect match to help a woman in Philadelphia who had leukemia.

“Right off the bat, I said I was more than happy to do it,” says Burciaga, who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2011 and is working toward his bachelor’s in criminal justice degree at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus.

“When I was a senior in high school, we had someone come to our school and tell us about bone marrow donation. It seemed like a pretty incredible thing to do, so when I found out I was a match, I was ready to help.”

In January 2009, Burciaga underwent a procedure known as peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) donation. For five days beforehand, he received injections of a drug to increase his blood-forming cells. Blood then was taken from one arm by needle and processed through a machine to remove the blood-forming cells before going back into Burciaga’s other arm.

It was a humbling experience for me. The best part was meeting the other heroes.

“It was very simple,” Burciaga said. “The actual procedure took about three hours.”

Later that year, the recipient of Burciaga’s stem cells contacted him and, in July 2010, invited him and his wife to Philadelphia to meet her family, beginning an enduring friendship. “It’s incredible,” he says. “She’s fully recovered.”

Burciaga, who earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for providing security for Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams in Iraq as they detonated or deactivated improvised explosive devices, began his student life after the donation. But another surprise came this past April.

“I got an email from Major League Baseball and People [magazine] saying I was nominated [by my wife] for a Tribute for Heroes award,” Burciaga says. “I asked my wife about it, and she said she was looking for Los Angeles Angels tickets, saw this on the site and then wrote a 1,500-word essay about me.”

Burciaga was a finalist for the Angels’ award in June and, based on fan votes on the team website, was among 30 winners of the Tribute for Heroes contest.

The veteran flew to New York for the All-Star game this past July, where he participated in an on-field ceremony honoring all the winners and was feted during pregame events, including a gala on the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid.

“It was pretty surreal being next to my favorite players and 29 other incredible people,” Burciaga says. “It was a humbling experience for me. The best part was meeting the other heroes, who all have incredible stories.”