Playing the Role of a Hero

Playing the Role of a Hero

By Katie Meier, Director of Athletic Communications

Admit it. When you play the lottery you don't really think you'll win. Deep down you know the odds are stacked against you. More often than not, that is the likely mindset of those who register to be bone marrow donors, as the many members of the Susquehanna University community did last spring at Susquehanna football's Be the Match bone marrow registry drive.

But just like the lottery where someone's numbers are indeed called, there will be individuals on the bone marrow registry who receive that phone call informing them they are a potential match. Those individuals are thus faced with the difficult question: do I actually go through with the process?

Susquehanna senior offensive lineman Ron Vilardi's "number" was indeed called and there was not any hesitation on his part.

"I had no reservations and I'd do it again," said the business administration major from Little Silver, N.J.

The process for him actually started well before the Crusader football team hosted its bone marrow drive in April. Vilardi had been on the bone marrow registry since November of 2013 when he and many of his family members joined it in hopes of being a match for his mother's cousin who was suffering from leukemia.

Vilardi, unfortunately, was not a match and life continued as normal for the then-junior. He spent the 2014 spring semester studying abroad in London and the prospect of being a donor was a distant thought until this past July when he received a phone call out of the blue, informing him he was a potential match for an anonymous patient.

The New Jersey native and four-year member of the football squad went for blood tests and despite expecting to hear news in late September, a mere one week later he was informed that he was a confirmed match. He was then asked if he wanted to go through with the donation process.

Vilardi was sure he would move ahead with it, but discussed the situation with his family and the Crusader football coaching staff.

"I was thrilled when Ron called me this summer to say he was a match and that he was in fact going to donate," head football coach Steve Briggs said. "He was worried about missing practices and I told him to do whatever it took and to not worry about us."

Thus began the whirlwind process of hoping to save someone's life. Vilardi attended the start of preseason football camp and the day after the team's Aug. 27 scrimmage at Wilkes University, he left his teammates behind to begin the procedure.

It began with five days of injections to increase his white blood cell count. That was followed by the actual extraction of the bone marrow. Normally recovery is surprisingly quick—one to seven days—but Vilardi's follow-up bloodwork showed a low white blood cell count, a result of a virus already in his system at the time of the procedure.

All Vilardi could do was sit and wait for his count to return to normal; no practice and certainly no football games. He had already expected to miss the season opener at Lycoming College on Sept. 6 but the white blood-cell issue meant Vilardi also missed the final home opener of his collegiate career when he sat out the Sept. 13 contest against 13th-ranked Johns Hopkins University.

Vilardi saw the big picture, though, and always had from the start.

"I was feeling less than great for nine days," he said, "but the people in need of the bone marrow transplants are going through chemotherapy. Someone always has it worse."

Briggs was more than proud of Vilardi's actions and the way he handled himself throughout.

"He was a trooper through the whole process," Briggs said. "Ron's a hero and we all look forward to hearing about the person he helped."

As for that person he helped, Vilardi only knows it was a female in her 40s. While he hopes to meet the individual, not being able to put a face to the cause does not matter in the least.

"Knowing the individual is honestly secondary," he said. "It's about the big picture and just knowing that I helped someone."