Three announcements shook up the Baltimore radio airwaves March 20, 2014. That morning, radio personality Maria Dennis of the Mix Morning Show on WWMX-FM announced that she had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. That same day, it was announced that Jenn Aparicio, wife of veteran sports talk personality Nestor Aparicio, had also been diagnosed with the disease.
Nestor Aparicio, the owner of WNST 1570 AM, announced he'd be returning full time to the airwaves, and he said he wanted to use his microphone for the cause. He said he had heard from the Baltimore sports community, family and friends asking whether there was a way they could help out. Phone calls and texts came in from the likes of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, as well as Colts head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who survived his own battle with leukemia in 2012.
About 10 days after his wife's diagnosis, Nestor Aparicio was approached by Erik Sauer -- a leukemia survivor and founder of There Goes My Hero, a foundation committed to matching leukemia patients with bone marrow donors and assisting their families and caregivers.
Sauer, who was diagnosed with the disease May 20, 2008, began the foundation in 2009. After spending 107 days in Johns Hopkins Hospital, away from his wife and newborn son, Sauer created the nonprofit with hopes of assisting other leukemia patients.
Bone marrow transplants require a DNA match between the donor and recipient. In efforts to grow the bone marrow donor registry, volunteers from There Goes My Hero collect DNA samples from qualified adults who collect their own saliva with cotton swabs along the inside of their cheeks.
Nestor Aparicio and WNST have helped this effort by putting on live events for Baltimore sports fans to come out and meet Ravens of the past and present and, while there, maybe even begin the process of joining the bone marrow transplant registry.
The first Raven to step up was former tight end Todd Heap. Upon hearing the news of Jenn Aparicio's diagnosis, Heap contacted Nestor Aparicio to let him know he'd be in town for another charity event and would be like to help out in some way. A former first-round pick out of Arizona State, Heap is no stranger to philanthropy in Charm City. He left a $1 million endowment to Franklin Square Hospital toward a new pediatric center in 2007.
"I spent 10 years here," Heap said. "You go through it and you figure, how could I not just make it 10 years, but leave a legacy by making a difference?"
Joining Heap in the live radio show series is his former coach Brian Billick, a minority partner at WNST. Current Ravens who have volunteered their time include Marlon Brown, Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta. Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco is scheduled to make an appearance June 24.
Heap said it was Flacco that had originally brought the cause to his attention.
"We've done this trip over the last few years where we get together during the offseason," Heap said. "We just happened to be together, and I guess Joe had already known about it, but he brought it up. So we're all talking about it, and then [Nestor Aparicio] texted me that or the next day. It was something we had been talking about, so we continued to talk about it, and I know Joe wants to help out, Dennis wants to help out.
"It's bigger than a football thing or a sports thing. It's a community thing. It's a people thing."
At the event, Heap unveiled he was actually already a registered as a bone marrow donor. Heap, along with Pitta, had both been part of a swabbing event for Kenny's Cause, a charity in Heap's native Arizona dedicated to the fight against blood diseases.
Pitta, who was the guest of honor at a live show at Padonia Ale House in Lutherville, and his wife, Mataya, have grown close with Jenn Aparicio.
"We've gotten to know Jenn over the last couple of years," Pitta said. "When we first got the news, it was really heartbreaking. It's tough to see anybody have to go through that, especially good friends of yours."
While at the podium for the show, Pitta said he had gotten the chance to learn about the disease from Sauer and Aparicio.
"I was with Joe and Todd when we got the news, and we all kind of looked at each other and knew that we needed to do whatever we could to help," Pitta said. "I didn't know a whole lot about leukemia and about what was going on, and I've learned a lot, and it's been very informative. I'm just glad that I was able to be a part of this."