On Oct. 23, more than 700 Eastern students, faculty and staff, as well as alumni, friends and visitors from as far away as Bristol, Newington and towns in Massachusetts participated in a bone marrow drive coordinated by the Eastern men's soccer team and "Be The Match," a non-profit organization specializing in helping bone marrow transplant patients and their families. The drive was held to increase awareness about the need for donors and specifically in response to the medical condition of Eastern student-athlete Jon DeCasanova.
DeCasanova is currently waiting for a bone marrow transplant due to a condition called aplastic anemia. The life-threatening illness prevents the body from producing sufficient red and white blood cells as well as platelets. Bone marrow generates three types of blood cells: red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to all parts of the body; white blood cells, which protect the body from germs; and platelets needed for blood to clot.
"Jon's condition has put everything in perspective for all of us," said Greg DeVito, head coach for Eastern's men's soccer team. "Jon's teammates are dealing with it the best that they can. For most of them, it's the first time they've seen anyone their age sick like this."
At the blood marrow drive, 624 new donors underwent a painless cheek swab to have their DNA added to the national registry.
All members of the men's soccer team and other student-athletes donated their time to help with set up, registration, promotion and monitoring of the testing. "It was like a well-oiled machine," said DeVito. "Student-athletes stood up in their classes to announce the drive; created a Facebook event; individually passed out thousands of flyers promoting the event; built attention in front of the Student Center with a bullhorn and air horn; put up posters in the dining hall, the Student Center, dormitories and academic buildings; and took turns greeting and registering potential donors and conducting the actual tests."
"It was touching to see how so many individuals helped as one," said student-athlete volunteer Chris Giustina. "Once we explained how important it was to register, people were really willing to help."
"Jon feels that it's not about him," says DeVito of DeCasanonva, who has been a starter on Eastern's men's soccer team since being recruited prior to DeVito's third season. "Jon is hoping that maybe this can help someone else. He's thinking about others."