Andrew McClary is a father on a mission.
No, not galactic domination.
Despite his Death Trooper costume, McClary’s mission is one focused on saving lives and helping to bring awareness to a cause extremely close to his heart – bone marrow donation.
McClary’s 19-year-old son, Nicholas, passed away last year after battling a rare form of bone cancer – Ewings sarcoma.
During his time at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, a group dressed as Star Wars characters called the “501st Legion” would visit Nicholas and his father, both huge fans of the space-themed mega-franchise we all know and love.
Just months after Nicholas’ passing, McClary returned to the place his son spent his final days, Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami, and suited up for one of the most important reasons of all: cheering up kids.
McClary, along with fellow members of the 501st Legion, traveled the halls of the hospital on a mission to visit as many kids as possible, many of whom he and his son Nicholas knew from their time there.
McClary shared with ABC’s Good Morning America how much it means to have a group like this visit with the children and families who are oftentimes spending weeks and months inside these facilities.
“These are kids that are fighting for their lives and cheering them up and seeing us in costume — it means a lot. It is important.”
For three years, Nicholas continued to fight the disease as he and his family awaited a matching bone marrow donation – a search further complicated by his ethnicity.
According to BeTheMatch.org, about 70% of patients who need a transplant don’t have a matched donor in their family, a number which only gets higher when mixed-race ethnicity is factored into the equation.
Nicholas’ mother was of Latin decent whereas his father is Caucasian.
Even with national bone marrow registries, the chances of finding a match can be dramatically different depending on a patient’s ethnicity.
For example, a white adult has about a 77% chance of finding a match on the national registry, while for an African American patient, that number drops to just 23%.
This statistic along with being impacted by the loss of his son and the countless other lives they both encountered during their time spent fighting, inspired McClary to start a foundation – Caring Like Nicholas.
According to the the organization’s website, “only 2% of the population in the United States is even registered as a donor, yet over 2,000 kids lose their lives just like Nicholas because they are unable to find a perfect match.”
The goal is to educate people who don’t realize how easy joining the registry really is – consisting of a simple registration and a cheek swap sent to Be The Match.
About 1 in 430 members of the Be The Match Registry in the United States will go on to donate
“It only takes a few hours out of your life, but you could save some kid’s life … it literally means life and death for people,” said McClary.
While McClary still had trouble revisiting the place his son spent the last days of his life, he says the importance of raising awareness compounded by the feeling of giving back is what keeps him going.
“My way of healing is helping other people.”