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MLS's Seitz To Assist at Marrow Drive

High-profile bone marrow donor here Monday to promote drive

By Jason Tierinni/Sports Information Staff

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Chris Seitz (left)

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- In 2005, Chris Seitz was the starting goalkeeper for the University of Maryland, and became the first freshman goal keeper to lead his team to the College Cup Title in 15 years.  He stopped three shots in the Division I NCAA championship game against New Mexico, including an important penalty shot in the 50th minute of the game en route to a 1-0 win.  At that point in his life, saving that penalty shot and preserving the win for his team was Seitz's biggest save of his life. 

At right: Jon DeCasanova displays his "One Team, One Goal" t-shirt. Anyone wishing to purchase a shirt to help defray DeCasanova's medical expenses can call head men's soccer coach Greg DeVito at 860-465-4334.

After saving someone's life by donating his bone marrow,  that save in the national championship game pales in comparison.

On Monday, Seitz - now a professional goalkeeper with FC Dallas of Major League Soccer - continues to do his part in the hopes of saving many more lives. The 25-year-old San Luis Obispo, Calif. native is scheduled to be on campus Monday to provide added exposure with the bone marrow drive - the second in six weeks sponsored by the Eastern men's soccer program - at the Eastern Sports Center from 2 to 7 p.m. 

Seitz, who will arrive Monday morning and depart Tuesday, will be the featured attraction when Eastern sponsors  a free soccer skills clinic for youngsters ages 7-12 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Geissler Gymnasium. The skills clinic will be followed by autographs and pictures with Seitz and  Eastern soccer players. 

Seitz will be at Eastern to help find a match for anyone  in need of a bone marrow and all of us at Eastern hope that a match can be found for senior soccer player Jon DeCasanova of Glastonbury, a four-year member of the program who has been hospitalized since early September after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia.  

Seitz, who has saved a life donating bone marrow, has a very unique story.  According to Seitz the story goes like this: "I played for Real Salt Lake for three years and in the second season with them my teammate Andy Williams' wife was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.  A bunch of teammates on the team went to a DKMS bone marrow registry to get swabbed in support of Andy Williams' wife. I didn't hear anything for three to four years but I eventually got a call. I found out that I was the best match for someone out there. "

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With the support of Chris Seitz, Eastern is hoping for a comparable turnout to its previous bone marrow drive in October, when over 500 members of the Eastern and surrounding communities joined the registry.

Over the summer, Seitz donated bone marrow to a recipient, putting his soccer career on hold even with knowing he did not have a guaranteed contract with his current team. All Seitz knows about the recipient at this point is that the individual accepted his cells and is out of the hospital. Privacy rights prevent the disclosure of additional information.

Seitz said about donating bone marrow, "It's definitely something I am going to look back on with a big smile.  It's all about spreading the word out there.  It's one of those things where you have an opportunity to do something and if you really believe in it and it's something you really want to do you are going to end up going through with it.  It was just something for me that made complete sense.  I was very lucky to have an organization (FC Dallas) that backed me 100 percent through it all."

When asked what it was like to save someone's life Seitz replied, "I don't really look at it like that. I look at it like hoping to give someone a second opportunity. Everyone has a family member or a friend or someone that they know that is fighting something like this. I like to think that everyone would do this for their, uncle, brother or cousin or sister if possible. "

Seitz who was presented the 2012 MLS Humanitarian Award for his selfless act said, "By no means did I think I was going to win it or anything like that. It is an awesome award. To be up for it was awesome and to win it was even more special."

Seitz' deed was documented on ESPN's television show Outside the Lines, which Eastern head men's soccer coach Greg DeVito watched after DeCasanova was diagnosed.  Devito then brought it to the attention of  new Eastern Director of Athletics Dr. Jeff Konin, a nationally-recognized expert in the field of sports medicine and athletic training.

As it turned out, Konin is a long-time colleague and friend of FC Dallas head athletic trainer Skylar Richards. Through Richards, Konin inquired of Seitz' availability to fly to Eastern for the day to bring attention to the drive.

Said DeVito of Seitz, "Chris was more than agreeable to come out and do whatever he can to help the cause." Said Konin said of Seitz, "We want to make sure he understands we appreciate his time and we hope that he gets a chance to interact with as many people as possible that he can influence in a positive way."

For his part, Seitz noted that "anytime you get an opportunity like this to help out an organization and try and get the word out there is huge.  It is always an awesome experience to meet new people. We hope to try and get as many people as possible out to try and find a match for someone."

Coincidentally, Seitz  has an uncle who is in the recovery process after receiving a bone marrow transplant from Setiz' father, Michael.  When informed of DeCasanova's plight, Seitz indicated that "it really hit home for me. I have come to realize how big of a part of my life being a bone marrow donor has become and I will do anything I can to help promote people coming out and getting swabbed."

After high school, Seitz played two seasons at the University of Maryland, where he was named College Cup Defensive MVP Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive-Player-of-the-Year Award during the Terps' national title run. In 2007, he was the first goalkeeper selected in the MLS Super Draft when chosen by Real Salt Lake. 

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Initially last summer, doctors were unable to determine the cause of DeCasanova's problems  before determining that it was aplastic anemia. After Eastern got news of DeCasanova's condition, it started right away on what was to become the second-largest bone marrow drive on a college campus according to the Be The Match organization. "The first bone marrow drive in October was an unbelievable experience," said Konin, of the drive which brought more than 500 new candidates to the registry.

At right: Jon DeCasanova was a three-year starter for the Warriors prior to falling ill this past summer.

Coach Devito said, "It's not just about Jon, and Jon realizes that was well. Other people are being helped in the process." 

Everyone seems to be helping out with finding DeCasanova a match and with helping others out.  In recent months, the mothers of three Eastern soccer players have organized and run bone marrow drives in the New England area as did Eastern soccer alumnus Mark Landers, DeCasanova's high school coach.

Devito explained that the Eastern soccer program  put in over 125 man-hours helping out with the last drive, but it was also members of the other athletic teams at Eastern that stepped up and pitched in to help with the drive.     

Monday's drive is being held to help raise awareness across the state about becoming a donor, and educating people about giving bone marrow in hopes that people will register and get swabbed. 

According to Devito, DeCasanova was transported  to Boston this past Wednesday on December to undergo a stem cell transplant scheduled to begin Dec. 11. If all goes well with the transplant,  the stem cells will take over his DNA and hopefully 'reset' his bone marrow, platelets and blood count.  As part of the process, DeCasanova will undergo chemotherapy and  radiation.

"He is excited about it," said DeVito.  "He is staying strong. He's been in the hospital for three-plus months straight.  I have a lot of respect for him. He is a tough kid.  It's amazing how he wakes up every day and maintains a positive attitude."
 

 

 

 

 

 

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