NAVAL SUPPORT FACILITY INDIAN HEAD, Md. --
There are many rare, but very exciting events that happen in a lifetime. For sports enthusiasts, it may be having the opportunity to see their pitcher throw a perfect game, which has only happened 20 times in the history of professional baseball, or seeing their football team go undefeated for an entire season and win the Super Bowl, as the 1972 Miami Dolphins did.
For others it may be getting a phone call saying they can save someone’s life. In 2008, Cpl. Alexander Degenhardt, a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) defense specialist in Identification and Detection Platoon, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), volunteered to have a DNA swab done and have his information put into a database as a bone marrow donor. The chance of being identified as a potential match is 1 in 10,000.
In early February, while waiting in an airport to fly out to Nevada for training, Degenhardt got the call that he was a match for a 56-year-old man with leukemia.
“They explained the whole procedure,” said the 26-year-old York, Pa., native. “They said it would be pretty painful and I would have to stay in the hospital for a little while to recover and asked me if I still wanted to go through with [the procedure].”
Degenhardt did not waver and he attributes the extraordinary events that followed to karma.
After the week-long training evolution in Nevada, the Marines and sailors of Initial Response Force (IRF) “A” got some time to relax and have some fun in Las Vegas before their flight home to Washington D.C. Degenhardt and some of his fellow Marines decided to hit the strip.
“We were killing time at the Bellagio, waiting for the rest of our group to meet up with us,” Degenhardt recalled. “I decided to burn time playing slots.”
Degenhardt had given himself a $100 limit to gamble with in Vegas. Little did he know, when the ATM gave him a $100 bill instead of the five $20 bills he was expecting, fate was on his side.
“I figured I’d just go lose $100 real quick,” said Degenhardt. Being a thrift store enthusiast, he went on the hunt for a penny slot machine and sat down at a random machine because he saw the ‘count up’ on it.
Degenhardt had chosen a Bally Technologies' Money Vault video slot machine. The odds of hitting the jackpot on that machine are 1 in 25 million, according to Bally.
For 10 minutes after inserting the $100 bill, Degenhardt’s total seesawed from $70 and back up to $180. He played another couple minutes, hit a bonus round, and watched the wheel stop on the dollar sign.
“My eyes got real big and I looked at my friend and said, ‘What does that mean?’ and he looked back at me and yelled ‘Dude! You won!’
“I was in complete disbelief,” said Degenhardt. “We all just started cheering and yelling.”
Degenhardt had beaten the odds and won more than $2.8 million.
The news of Degenhardt’s big win spread like wildfire, reaching friends, family, and co-workers across the country within the hour.
“I was happy to hear he had won,” said Sgt. Michael Gorball, Mobile Lab squad leader for IDP, IRF A, React Company, CBIRF and Degenhardt’s non-commissioned-officer in charge. “It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. He is what you expect from every good Marine; hard working, responsible, dependable and an all around good guy.”
Degenhardt is not letting the money go to his head. He intends to fulfill his contract with the Marine Corps after reenlisting last October. He plans to use some of his winnings to help family pay off bills.
He also plans to continue shopping at thrift stores and is keeping his promise to donate his bone marrow.
“Just because I won this money doesn’t change anything,” said Degenhardt. “It’s luck winning money, whatever it can happen to anyone, but if you actually choose to help someone out and choose to be selfless it feels a lot better.”
It will take six months of rigorous testing before he will know for sure if he can donate, but Degenhardt is dedicated.
“What’s a little pain if it will save someone’s life?”