By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/11/12
It never hit Villanova junior midfielder Nick Tortoriello that he had made the ultimate gift – saving a life of a blood cancer patient needing a bone marrow transplant – until Christmas last year when he got a letter from his donor recipient, saying she had left the hospital healthy.
“You don’t (initially) feel it because you do the surgery but you don’t know the person,” said Tortoriello, a graduate of Hunterdon Central Regional High (N.J.). “It never hit me until I got that letter.
“When I got the letter I was emotional. When I heard she was out of the hospital, it was the best day of my life. I didn’t know her or anything about her. It took time to realize what it meant.”
Tortoriello’s story was told Saturday at St. Joseph’s University after he was honored as the Wildcats’ recipient of the prestigious Nick Colleluori Award at the inaugural SJU Fall Scrimmage, a HEADstrong Foundation event hosted by the St. Joe’s men’s program.
Villanova and St. Joe’s were joined by fellow Philly Division I team Lehigh, all programs that have been major supporters of the HEADstrong Foundation and the Nick Colleluori Classic. And just like Nick Colleluori proved, Tortoriello showed how much someone can give by thinking of others first.
“There is no amount of time off from lacrosse that’s worth (more than) a life,” he said.
Tortoriello was chosen as a donor for the 66-year-old women last fall after participating in Villanova football coach Andy Talley’s Be The Match Foundation in the spring of 2014. The process of taking a swab to get tested is simple.
More difficult was the operation to remove his bone marrow. The procedure lasted just an hour, but Tortoriello’s recovery time caused him to miss nearly all the 2014 Fall season.
Villanova coach Michael Corrado said he was pleased to have his team compete after playing many years in the Nick Colleluori Classic at Ridley High. He also was proud of Tortoriello’s sacrifice and what it meant to the recipient and the community at large.
“Nick talked about it and I said, ‘Do you want to do it?” and he said, ‘Absolutely!'” Corrado said. “There was never a doubt. He missed the majority of the fall season; that’s the kind of kid he is – team first, family first. He is a great student, hard working on the field and off the field.
“It didn’t surprise me he did this. We’re very proud of him.”
“I found out during the summer that I was a match and the foundation asked if I would be interested,” said Tortoriello in an interview with the Villanova Sports Information Department. “I took some basic blood tests and they told me I was the best match out of the two or three people they picked initially for the procedure.”
“It feels really humbling that I was able to donate because so many people send their swabs in and don’t get the call. For me, how could I say no? Any other answer other than `yes’ just wasn’t an option and wouldn’t work for me. I feel really lucky to be able to do it and it’s a pretty amazing thing to actually be a match.”
During the procedure, which occurs under general anesthesia, a needle is inserted into the pelvis where the bone marrow is extracted that will be used for the receiver. The marrow is given shortly thereafter to the match.
Tortoriello said he had some trouble walking after the procedure and had to use a cane for a while when he returned to campus, but he recovered well and emerged as a regular this spring for the Wildcats
“I just want everyone to know how easy it all actually is,” Tortoriello said. “People think that the process is long and complicated but you’re only taking out one or two days over a few months and I was only in recovery from surgery for about two hours. It’s easy, safe, and a great opportunity.”
Now that a year has passed since his surgery, Tortoriello can reach out to his donor recipient. He said now that he is on Fall Break that he intends to contact her.
Being involved in the HEADstrong Foundation event at St. Joe’s was a thrill, he said.
“I feel a sense of community with all the people here, all the parents here and three Philadelphia teams,” he said “It’s great to feel you have the support; you feel it full circle.
“To be a part of that organization is great. They have made such an impact; they do great work and to do what they do to help someone with cancer is fulfilling the mission. We continue to support them and they continue to support us.”
Nationally, the odds are one in 20,000 of finding bone marrow donors for those with life-threatening blood diseases. For members of the African-American community, the odds are even worse – one in one million.
Thousands of patients with leukemia and other diseases need bone marrow transplants and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find a donor. For a successful transplant, a patient needs a matching donor. Although there are more than 20 million registered donors there are still only a few hundred matches found each year.
In 2009, Talley started the “Get in the Game and Save a Life” National Bone Marrow registration campaign where he’s enlisted over 40 college programs from all levels to take part in the campaign. Over the last five years, the group has tested over 40,000 potential donors.
For further information on how you can be a part of the National Marrow Donor Program, go to www.talleybonemarrow.org.
Tomorrow: St. Joseph’s coach Taylor Wray talks about the SJU Fall Scrimmage; and comments from the Nick Colleluori winners from Lehigh (Reid Weber) and St. Joseph’s (Pat Swanick)