Former Tampa Bay Lightning player fights cancer, helps others

Shawn Burr diagnosed with AML

Shawn Burr never shied away from a fight on the ice.

He was a fighter for 16 NHL seasons. His career began with the Detroit Red Wings, then continued with the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The fans loved Burr because he never put himself first. 

Burr, 45, spent the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons with the Lightning and returned to the team for four games in 1999.  His grit, energy, and willingness to do anything to win made him a fan favorite.

Even now -- battling to survive cancer -- he's still thinking of how he can help others.

Burr was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia or AML. about a year ago.

"I went to work in the morning and was tired," Burr said. "(I) came home and said to my wife, 'I'm just exhausted.'"

Burr's wife Amanda told him to go to the doctor. 

His doctor noticed something alarming in his mouth.

"He didn't say anything for about 30 seconds," Burr said.  "He said, 'I'm going to put you in an ambulance. I'm going to take you to the hospital for blood tests.'"

What the doctor saw was tiny red spots called petechiae, which scientists say could be a sign that a person's platelet counts are dangerously low.

"If he would have just, you know, sent me home with some penicillin and said looks like you have strep throat, I probably would have died."

Blood tests pinpointed the problem. Burr will never forget the moment. 

"The doctor sits down, his face is just white. He says, 'We need to get you to a bigger hospital.' I'm like, 'Well what is it?' He says, 'Well, it looks like leukemia.'  I'm like, 'What?'"

AML starts in a person's bone marrow. The cancer grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells, which fight disease.

Burr immediately started chemotherapy.

"I was in remission for about seven or eight months. I felt good. Everything was, you know, I thought, you know, I thought we had it beat," he said.

He didn't. The AML returned.

A bone marrow transplant is Burr's only chance to survive.

"It's a scary thing, you know. I kind of joke about it," Burr said.  "But you'd be lying if you didn't say there's a time where you're laying there at night thinking, 'Gosh, what's really going to happen?'"

Fortunately, Burr will soon get that bone marrow transplant.

He's incredibly lucky. Finding a bone marrow donor is tough because so few people offer to be donors.

So Burr is behind a new push to get people to sign up for the bone marrow registry.

Helping save lives, Burr says, doesn't cost money, just a moment of your time.

A simple swab of the cheek at the dentist's office allows scientists to determine whether a person could be a bone marrow donor and whether the person is a possible match.  

Click here to find out how to help.

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