Man Facing Leukemia Plays Borgata Winter Poker Open As A Sponsored PokerStars Player

January 17, 2017
Man Facing Leukemia Plays Borgata Winter Poker Open As A Sponsored PokerStars Player

Damon Ferrante will make his way to Borgata in Atlantic City to take part in his first tournament as a PokerStars-sponsored player on Jan. 17.

Ferrante isn’t being sponsored because he’s an up-and-coming online phenom. Nor is it because he’s a live tournament pro who’s paid his dues and won some big events.

Ferrante’s path to a poker sponsorship was an altogether different route.

The news no one wants to hear

Ferrante has deep roots in New Jersey. A lifelong resident, he moved to Parsippany when he was two years old, and has been there ever since. In 2010, he bought the house in which he grew up. He’s also taken over the family coin store, Roxbury Coin, which his father opened in 1979.

In 2011, at the age of 45, Ferrante was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), an incurable form of cancer.

“I cried, probably every day for six months when I found out about it,” Ferrante told US Poker. “You know, because I have children and a beautiful wife and family and friends, and I didn’t want to lose all that, but that’s what goes through your mind.”

Ferrante explained how he tries to stay upbeat and positive, but even though he puts on a good face every day, the cancer “is the monster on the inside.” It’s a monster he says comes to the surface every night when he lays his head on a pillow and has to face the reality that tomorrow isn’t a given.

“This takes an extreme mental toll,” he said.

Luckily, Ferrante has found an escape, a way to relieve the stress and take his mind off of it all, if only for a few hours — poker.

When life gives you lemons… play poker

Like so many others, Ferrante (pictured at right) first caught the poker bug after watching Chris Moneymaker triumph in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event.

And it was poker to which Ferrante turned to take his mind off his dire circumstances.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to me,” Ferrante said. “I have something that is going to claim me one day, eventually … in the meantime when I play poker it completely takes my mind off it. Some people might find poker stressful, but for me it’s a way to take my mind off what’s always on my mind.”

“It was a blessing for me to find poker, and to be good at something,” he said, adding that his family fully supports his non-traditional way of relieving stress. “They saw how much it meant to me to play poker, my wife and kids were with me from the beginning.”

Of course, Ferrante’s family has extra motivation to support his poker habit, since he gives them most of the money he wins.

Everything happens for a reason

Ferrante came to the attention of PokerStars by pure happenstance.

Following a fourth-place finish in the senior event at the inaugural PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Ferrante decided to play in the Chad Brown Memorial charity tournament as a way to give a little back.

What happened next was serendipitous.

When he registered for the $200 buy-in charity event Ferrante didn’t know what charity the tournament was serving. He just wanted to see some of the $720 he won earlier in the day go to a good cause. When he discovered the T.J. Martell Foundation aims to find a cure for the form of cancer Ferrante has been fighting for five years, he knew there was a reason he wound up in this event.

Ferrante, who describes himself as a cheerful and talkative poker player by nature, found himself at a table with friendly and talkative Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari. More importantly, the man sitting next to him was Beau Eurell, Chad Brown’s manager and longtime friend. Eurell spoke about Brown and the T.J. Martell Foundation during the tournament, which led to Ferrante sharing his own story with the table.

Enter PokerStars

Word eventually got back to PokerStars, and the company reached out to Ferrante with the idea of sponsoring him in a couple of events at the upcoming Borgata Winter Poker Open.

“Damon truly understands the need for research and ultimately finding a cure for these diseases,” a PokerStars representative told US Poker. “Damon’s passion for poker and his desire to support the T.J. Martell Foundation led to PokerStars offering to sponsor him at the Borgata Winter Poker Open.”

PokerStars will be sponsoring Ferrante in two events at the Borgata Winter Poker Open:

  • Event 1: Borgata Deepstack Kick-Off, a $500 + $60 No Limit Hold’em (Re-Entry) with a $2 million guarantee
  • Event 10: Borgata Almighty Stack, a $400 + $50 No Limit Hold’em (Re-Entry) with a $500,000 guarantee

If he’s lucky enough to cash in either event (which is quite possible considering his tournament results over the years) Ferrante will be donating a portion of his winnings to the T.J. Martell Foundation.

“I was really excited to hear from PokerStars,” Ferrante said. “I’m now getting a chance through PokerStars and the T.J. Martell Foundation to give back again.”

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What Ferrante hopes to accomplish

Ferrante fully understands how impactful giving back can be, even if it’s a seemingly small gesture.

“Every day I post something positive on Facebook,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people I know — and don’t know — have told me how those posts helped get them through a tough day.”

Ferrante began posting the uplifting messages for more selfish reasons … at first.

“I told my wife, I didn’t start doing it so much to help other people, but rather to remind myself to stay positive every day while I deal with adversity,” he said.

For Ferrante, being a PokerStars-sponsored player isn’t about winning or money. He wants to bring hope where it’s needed most. As with his Facebook posts, he realizes too many people don’t have a way to push down “the monster inside,” and he’s hoping his story and message will help others find solace, through poker or some other outlet.

“I’m thankful I have a chance to do something I love to do, for something I really believe in, and for something that helps me and could help others,” he said. “What I want to do is take this further and help other people who’re suffering from illnesses and think their [lives are] over. It’s not over, maybe it’s just beginning.”

Ferrante has a loving and supportive family, great friends, and most importantly, an outlook on life we should all aspire to imitate.

And this week, he’s also a PokerStars-sponsored player.

You can donate to the T.J. Martell Foundation at

Image credit: Joe Giron; pic of Chad Brown Memorial Tournament, where PokerStars came across Ferrante

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