Five years after undergoing a bone marrow transplant, Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey equipment manager Chris Garner is reaching out to his donor.

He knows her name, that she’s from Europe - Austria or Germany - but fears the email address he has is obsolete.

“I just want to tell her, ‘Thanks,’ ” Garner said. “It’s a pretty amazing thing she gave me.”

Garner, 37, was diagnosed in the spring of 2010 with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), which in his case was a precursor to leukemia. Most people develop MDS from previous cancer treatments, but Garner said his was atypical. It was hereditary and linked back to four generations in his family.

Garner’s MDS wasn’t discovered until he went into the emergency room in the spring of 2010 with a bad nosebleed that had gone on for hours. After running tests, emergency room doctors referred Garner to oncologist Dr. Bret Friday in Duluth, who then referred Garner to Dr. William Hogan at the Mayo Clinic in Garner’s hometown of Rochester, Minn.

Doctors treated his MDS as if it were cancer. He underwent chemotherapy and, in August 2010, a bone-marrow transplant that also involved stem cells. Today, Garner is still on a regimen of anti-rejection drugs from the transplant, his immune system is still technically suppressed, but he’s MDS free and expected to live a long and healthy life.

“Anytime you go through something like that, it’s a life-changing experience,” Garner said. “It really puts a perspective on things. I think a lot of people can relate to that, whether they went through some sort of cancer treatment or a loss of somebody. It makes you look at things differently. You want to cherish every day you have with family and friends. It puts a different perspective on things.”

Garner, who joined the Bulldogs in 2008, said he was originally told by doctors that he could be out of work for an entire year after the transplant, but he returned to Amsoil Arena on Nov. 15, 2010. He didn’t miss a day of work the rest of that season, which concluded with the Bulldogs winning their first NCAA championship via a 3-2 overtime win over Michigan at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“That was a special team, obviously,” Garner said.

When he was sick and receiving treatment, it was his job as UMD’s equipment manager that kept him going, Garner said, specifically the players from that 2011 national championship squad, as well as Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin and the rest of the staff.

“The most important thing for him at that time was his health. It wasn’t getting back to work,” Sandelin said. “Sometimes being around something that you love can be a good remedy. Him being able to get back and maybe not be at the capacity he was, but still be around it and do some things, probably helped him get back a little bit better.”

Sandelin said Garner is a good friend to the players and a great guy to have on staff. If you treat Garner with respect, he’ll respect you back. Disrespect him and he’ll put you in your place, Sandelin said.

The coach likes that about Garner, and so do the players.

Senior goaltender Matt McNeely, who joined the Bulldogs in the fall of 2012, called Garner one of the easiest guys to get along with in the locker room. Garner goes the extra mile in a number of areas that other equipment managers don’t, McNeely said.

“I love the guy, he’s awesome,” McNeely said. “He brings a lot of emotion on the bench and in the locker room. He’s always there for us, if we need anything equipment-wise. I’ve had a lot of equipment managers in the past, he’s definitely the best one. He definitely takes good care of us.”

In the past five years, Garner said his transplant hasn’t changed the way he’s done his job at UMD, but it has changed how he’s handled life. He said he’s much more honest now than he was in the past - “sometimes too honest” - but he wants to speak his mind.

“There’s no point in sugarcoating anything,” Garner said. “You’ve got to be upfront with people. I kind of live my life that way - no regrets.”

He’s also developed an addiction, but not to the anti-rejection drugs he takes daily. Since the transplant, Garner has been hooked on fly fishing in the offseason.

Locally, he fishes on the Brule River in Wisconsin, in addition to southern Minnesota where he grew up. He also makes a trip out west every year, visiting Montana last summer with his eye on Idaho, Wyoming or another “epic” trip to Montana again next summer.

“Once you start getting into it, it get’s ahold of you, almost like a drug,” Garner said of fly fishing. “When I’m not working and when the season is over, that’s all I think about. I don’t have kids or a wife, which I’d like to have. Fly fishing keeps me sane. It’s my release.”

It’s one of the many things he’d like to thank his donor for.

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