Richard Stockton College lacrosse player Dan Lamela has never met his biggest fan.
Lamela, a senior long-stick midfielder, doesn’t know the fan’s name, where he lives or whether he even likes lacrosse.
All Lamela knows about him is that he's a middle-aged man.
He hopes to get more information in three weeks or so. That’s when Lamela is scheduled to find out whether his stem-cell donation saved someone’s life.
Lamela had his cheek swabbed last fall when the Ospreys were participating in the HEADstrong Foundation’s seventh annual Nicholas Colleluori Classic at Ridley High School outside Philadelphia. Colleluori, a former lacrosse player for Hofstra University in New York, died in 2006 from large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
A few weeks later, Lamela also stopped by Jackson Liberty High School in Jackson Township, Ocean County, to participate in a Delete Blood Cancer DKMS donor registration program. Lamela’s father, John, is the vice principal at Jackson Liberty.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to help someone,” Lamela said. “I kept asking myself, ‘What if I was in the position of needing help?’ I had heard the chances of actually being a match for someone were slim, but it was worth the effort.”
In late January, the longshot came through. An official with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS called and told Lamela he was a match for a man who was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that starts inside bone marrow. It is characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells in bone marrow.
On Feb. 11, Lamela found himself heading to a hospital in North Jersey to donate stem cells, which are frequently used in bone marrow transplants.
“Stem cells have their own special honing mechanism,” said Dr. Julianne Childs, a physician with the Hope Community Cancer Center in Marmora. “They know exactly where to go. They populate a patient’s bone marrow and, in essence, give the patients a new immune system, too.”
Lamela, 22, is among a few local athletes in recent years to participate in bone marrow donation programs.
In 2010, Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University graduate Matt Szczur donated stem cells to a 19-month-old leukemia patient as part of the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley is Villanova’s head football coach.
“I was extremely excited when I found out that I was a match for a patient,” Szczur said in a 2010 interview. “When I joined the donor registry, I never in a million years thought that I would one day be a match. I know that anyone else would do the same thing I did if they were given the chance to save someone’s life.”
Lamela underwent a procedure know as apheresis, in which blood is taken out of one arm, passed through a machine that removes stem cells from the blood, then returned through the other arm.
Five days before his donation, Lamela said, he took a drug that stimulated stem cell growth in the long, flat bones of his body such as his chest plate, femur and hips.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had growing pains, but it felt like that,” Lamela said. “I felt a little lethargic and tired, kind of like I had the flu.”
The day of the donation, doctors administered a tranquilizer to keep him from fidgeting during the six-hour procedure. They took blood out of one arm, sent it to a machine that centrifuged (separated) the stem cells, then sent it back into his system.
They repeated it seven or eight times.
“I’m a biochemistry major, so I kind of knew what they were talking about when they were explaining it,” said Lamela, who plans to do biochemical research this summer and is scheduled to graduate in December. “And the aftereffects weren’t that bad at all. I felt a little nauseous and dehydrated from all the stress, but I only missed a few days of practice.”
The Ospreys have been enjoying a solid season. They have a 9-3 record that includes a 6-1 mark in their past seven games. Lamela has played a key role in the team’s success. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder ranks third on the team with 38 ground balls to go with a goal and an assist.
“Dan is just a great kid,” Stockton coach Kevin Zulauf said. “He’s a very good player, very tough, but I’m more impressed with what he has done off the field. For him to perform such a selfless act in hopes of helping to save a life is just incredible. That says more about him than what he does as a lacrosse player.”
Lamela sprinted up the right sideline during a game against Philadelphia’s Neumann University three weeks ago and fired a shot that whizzed past the goalie and into the net. Later, lightning streaked across the sky, prompting the referees to postpone the game for a half-hour.
Stockton’s team retreated into the trailer that serves as their locker room. The Ospreys passed the time by playing an R-rated version of “Hangman” on the white board normally used to design plays.
Once the lightning left, the Ospreys finished off their 19-9 victory, then returned to the trailer for pizza and sandwiches.
Lamela said he often thinks about the man he has never met.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to know that I was able to help somebody,” Lamela said. “I’m supposed to find out if it worked in a couple of weeks. Then, if everything goes well, I was told that I can meet him in about a year and a half. I’d love to meet him.”
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