NEWPORT — When the Salve Regina University football team headed north to play Endicott in arguably the most pivotal game of the season on Saturday afternoon, Pat McGroarty was watching from the sidelines.
The junior offensive lineman had an opportunity to make an impact far greater than he could have on the field.
Back in 2016, during his freshman season, McGroarty had his mouth swabbed and a sample of his DNA taken for Be The Match, an organization that works to cure blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma through donors. McGroarty’s DNA was placed into a data base with the hopes that one day it could help someone in need.
About two years later, that day arrived.
The East Northport, N.Y., resident received a call in August saying he was a candidate for a bone marrow transplant and additional testing was needed. He provided more blood samples before learning he was, indeed, a match.
“It’s kind of always in the back of your head that someday you could get a call, but you really don’t think it’s going to happen until it does,” McGroarty said by phone on Thursday.
At Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston on Halloween, McGroarty underwent the procedure to remove his bone marrow. The process includes full anesthesia and needles placed into the small of the back, near the pelvis, where the bone marrow — the soft tissue inside the bones where cancer-fighting white blood cells are produced — is extracted.
The timing of the surgery meant he would be forced to miss the final two games of the season, but knowing he’d be helping a cancer patient, it was a sacrifice he was willing to make — especially when he learned who that patient was.
Be The Match does not reveal the identity of the transplant recipient, giving only an age and a sex. McGroarty’s bone marrow will end up inside a 6-year-old boy battling the disease.
“Once I heard that, it was a no-brainer,” McGroarty said. “If that kid can fight through this battle, I can certainly go under for an hour with some back pain.”
If the recipient responds well to the marrow and shows signs of improvement, Be The Match will organize a meeting between McGroarty and the young boy after about 1½ to two years.
“I really hope one day I can meet him if he wants to meet me,” McGroarty said. “I’m just praying that everything works out.”
The Salve Regina football program first partnered with Be The Match in 2012, when Bob Chesney was the head coach. Current head coach Kevin Gilmartin, then an assistant under Chesney, was tasked with heading up Salve’s effort. Gilmartin was given the top job the following season, after Chesney departed, and kept the Seahawks involved.
“This is a chance to save someone’s life,” Gilmartin said. “Above all, that’s the greatest thing possible. We’re giving people the opportunity to save someone’s life, and guys are willing and jump on board and do it and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of that.”
McGroarty isn’t the only current Salve player to make the sacrifice. Junior linebacker Drew Balestrieri of Lynnfield, Mass., donated blood over the summer after learning he was a match. His procedure was far less involved than that of McGroarty, but important nonetheless.
“Neither one batted an eye,” Gilmartin said. “They were excited about doing it. They didn’t question what could happen. Those are the types of people we’re looking for, and that’s what makes the Salve football program a Salve football family.”
McGroarty attended last week’s home finale against Nichols, and he was expected to be in attendance on Saturday, when the Seahawks faced Endicott.
Not being able to contribute will be a little “bittersweet,” McGroarty said, but he knows the decision he made was the right one.
“You start out the season on a mission and you want to finish it with your brothers on the field,” McGroarty said. “But this was something I needed to do. The opportunity was there for me to help someone in this world. That’s what I’ve been taught to do my entire life.”