BY JUSTUS STURTEVANT, SPORTS EDITOR
Many college athletes dream of being a hero on the field, whether it’s hitting a home run in the conference playoff game or setting a single season rushing record for their school.
Very few however, take that role off the field. Susquehanna senior offensive lineman Ron Vilardi did just that this semester, sacrificing the first few games of his senior season to help a stranger.
The Crusader football team hosted a bone marrow drive in April. For Vilardi however, the process began long before that day last semester.
Vilardi, who signed up to become a bone marrow donor in November 2013 after a relative was diagnosed with leukemia, received a call over the summer informing him that he was a match for a different patient in need of a donation.
Vilardi did not hesitate, despite having no knowledge of who the recipient would be.
He said: “I had no reservations to go through the process. I discussed it with both my parents and the coaching staff on the football team, and they all agreed with me that it was something that should be done, so I had full support.”
The process did not begin until late August, after the Crusaders had begun preparing for their upcoming season.
Following the team’s Aug. 27 scrimmage against Wilkes, Vilardi departed to begin the donation process, which took five days.
For the first four days, he received injections to boost his white blood cell count. Vilardi likened the symptoms of this treatment to the flu.
The fifth day began with another dose of injections, before the process of actually removing his white blood cells began. For four hours doctors removed his blood and cycled it through a machine, which separated out the white blood cells.
Vilardi’s bloodwork following the procedure revealed a low white blood cell count, due to a virus in his system prior to the process.
The extended recovery time caused Vilardi to miss not just the Crusaders’ Sept. 6 opener against Lycoming but also his team’s Sept. 13 home opener against John’s Hopkins.
Despite this, Vilardi does not regret his decision to be a donor. As he sees it, the small sacrifice he made has had a profound, positive impact on the recipient’s life.
He said, “What a donor goes through, which is only 7 to 10 days, does not compare to what a cancer patient is enduring on a daily basis in terms of medications and treatment.”
Vilardi has not met the patient who received his donation, but that does not take away from the joy he gets from knowing he made a significant impact in someone’s life.
He said, “It feels good knowing I had a positive influence on someone’s life, and that it is a big picture situation.”
Vilardi continued: “My attitude towards this entire process is that if it were me or someone else in my family, I would hope that if a match was found, regardless if I knew them or not, that they would donate to potentially save a life. Like I said before, I needed to go through a process that only took about 10 days to help someone with a life-threatening illness.”
With Vilardi now on the field, the Crusaders seek their first win on the 2014 campaign when they take on Moravian on Oct. 18.
Meanwhile, thanks to Vilardi’s efforts, a woman miles away is being given a second chance at life.