Dec. 1, 2006
VILLANOVA, Pa. - When the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, Villanova sophomore kicker Joe Marcoux certainly wasn't about to let it slip away. Marcoux joined the registry of potential bone marrow donors in April and will undergo a procedure to donate blood-forming cells to a patient in need.
"Joe is in a unique position to give the greatest gift there is, the gift of life," Villanova head coach Andy Talley said. "It is an incredible feat and we are thankful that a member of the Villanova community is in a position to make such a contribution."
The story of how Marcoux wound up in this position is an unlikely one. This past spring he participated in the football team's annual drive to register potential marrow donors. That day, April 22, Marcoux was one of more than 400 people who joined the National Marrow Donor Registry (NMDP), a network of more than six million people.
"We started the drive to test people 12 years ago and have tested more than 5,000 registrants in that time," Talley said. "When I learned about how hard it is to find potential matches for patients in need, I knew it was a cause that Villanova could contribute to because of the size of our team. This is the second time that one of our players has been a match and made a donation. Our goal is to continue these efforts and keep providing the donor registry with viable healthy candidates."
There are 20 million people worldwide who are registered as potential marrow donors. Still, there are only about 250 matches found each year, making it a 1-in-80,000 chance that a registered donor will be a match. Marcoux learned this summer that he was a possible match for a patient. During further testing he was told that there was a 1-in-15 chance he would be a perfect match.
"It was exciting to find out I was a possible match for a certain patient," Marcoux recalls. "However, they told me there was only a 1-in-15 chance that I would actually be a perfect match and I thought that I wouldn't end up being able to go further in the process."
It was early this season that Marcoux found out that he was the one perfect match for a certain patient.
"People that I have talked to say that this is a life-changing event," Marcoux said. "It is exciting for me to know that along with our registry drive that Coach Talley started I can do something good for the community. This is a great cause."
During the initial drive that the team had in April, members of the football team were asked to encourage friends to get themselves tested and added to the donor registry. Marcoux recalls many people he knows who were hesitant to attend because they were unsure about what it would entail. He now is in a position to spread the word about the process he has gone through.
"This all started with a cotton swab of your cheek to get tested and added to the donor registry," Marcoux explained. "I had to undergo additional blood tests at the end of this summer to see whether I was a perfect match. I learned a lot about this process along the way and it has been a very positive experience."
Marcoux is hopeful that he will not only help one patient through his own donation but can also help others down the road.
"The players on the team and many of my other friends know what actually happens now and they realize what I am doing. So many people have come up to me and asked about what I am doing. I hope that my experience will raise awareness about marrow donation and that other people will be encouraged to join the registry."
"Up until this year you had to give a vial of blood in order to be tested on the registry," Talley explained. "The process now is much easier, where they just swab the inside of your cheek. This is a relatively little-known cause that many people are not familiar with. At the same time, almost everyone knows someone who has had or has been affected by cancerous diseases, so the need for additional donors is clear."
There are two different processes in which a marrow donor can help a patient. One is through a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is withdrawn from the donor. The second procedure involves the donation of blood-forming cells to the patient. This second process, known as peripheral blood cell (PBSC) donation, is the one which Marcoux will undergo on Friday.
Leading up to Friday's procedure, Marcoux is receiving two injections each day to increase the number of blood-forming cells in his blood. On Friday he will be hooked up to a machine for as long as 10 hours. During that time blood will be taken from his arm and put into a machine that will separate the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to Marcoux.
"I stay conscious throughout the entire thing," Marcoux said. The only nervous part of it will be how long it takes because you are just sitting in a chair the whole time. I am excited and confident going into the procedure on Friday."
The week leading up to the procedure has some physical side effects due to the injections, but Marcoux has had no trouble keeping things in perspective.
"The injections I am getting this week have side effects such as nausea, insomnia and bone pain. I have had some of those but I think about the fact that this is one week out of my life where I might feel sick but I have the chance to save someone who has no chance of surviving if they don't receive this donation. Going through with this procedure gives the patient at least a 50 percent chance of living. I can only hope that I would be lucky enough to have someone do that for me if I was in that situation."
The entire donation process is a strictly confidential one, and Marcoux does not know anything about the patient he will donate blood cells to. After one year, the donor and patient are given an opportunity to meet in person if all goes well.
"I understand the reasons for the anonymous part of the process," Marcoux said. "I just hope that everything goes well and that after one year I will have the chance to meet the patient I am helping. I want to be able to shake their hand and say hello."
Hearing Marcoux talk about his family and his previous experiences giving blood, it seems only appropriate that he would be a perfect match on the marrow donor registry.
"My mom and I have donated blood together and she has been on the marrow registry for 10 years without ever being a possible match. She has been very supportive of my experience and wishes that she could be in the same position."
Marcoux has been an integral part of the Wildcats special teams play in his two seasons on campus. This year he played in 10 games and took the majority of the team's kickoffs, with 46 attempts for an average of 60.9 yards. Marcoux converted 24-of-25 extra points and 5-of-11 field goals for the season. His longest field goal of the year was a 42-yard attempt in a win over Hofstra and he made five of his final nine attempts for the season. In his career, Marcoux has made 41-of-45 extra point attempts and 8-of-15 field goals.
"What Joe is doing with this donation transcends any possible sports-related achievement," Talley said. "Beyond statistics and wins and losses, when you are in a position to maybe save someone's life then you have had your greatest season ever."
More information about the National Marrow Donor Program can be found online at www.marrow.org.