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Villanova football coach Andy Talley saving lives through bone marrow donation

With his days as a Villanova hockey goalie over, Kevin Healey has moved on with a far bigger save.

Healey was the fourth Wildcat to come out of football coach Andy Talley's donor program to be matched with a patient for a life-saving marrow transplant.

Talley was so affected by a radio show more than 20 years ago that promoted the dire need for donors to fight all types of deadly diseases, he brought a bone marrow donor program to campus.

The 24-year-old Healey became the program's latest success story when he made a donation this month for a 46-year-old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"When it comes to the point where they ask if you're willing to do it, I didn't even think twice about it," Healey said. "I hadn't thought of not doing it. It was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity."

Talley's mission is to educate and promote awareness about the importance of bone marrow donor registration, registering hundreds of Villanova athletes through the last 20 years, and encouraging 29 other college football teams to lead and host an on-campus donor drive each spring.

"We're saving lives," Talley said. "I thought maybe if we tested 1,000 people it would be great. But every year, we test about 9,000 people."

Healey was like so many other Villanova athletes before him: He had his cheek swabbed in the spring of 2010 as part of the program, then pretty much forgot about it. But he got the call in May that he was a potential match for the patient. After an interview and some blood work, Healey was deemed the best match and was asked to donate on Sept. 10. He had to keep his right arm still for most of the day for what was basically a supersized blood donation.

"I think the misconception is, when people hear, 'donate bone marrow' they think they're doing the harvest in your hip bone," Healey said. "It was just a 6- or 7-hour donation. It's something that was completely bearable. I think if people understood really what they were doing, and how the process works, I think more people would be inclined to register and get involved."

While Healey never had a second thought, Talley said only about 50 percent of potential matches contacted actually want to go through with the donation. There's roughly a 1 in 60,000 chance a person would ever be a match for a stricken patient.

Three previous Villanova players had been a match, most notably, two-sport star Matt Szczur, who led Talley's Wildcats to the 2009 national championship and now plays for the Chicago Cubs organization.

Talley launched a foundation in 2010 to raise funds to support the $100 test. More information can be found at http://www.talleybonemarrow.org. He also works in tandem with the national Be The Match program.

"We can see the results of our work immediately," Talley said. "We have someone like Kevin who offers tangible evidence that he saved someone."

Healey, a commercial real estate broker, said his twin sister and parents registered after he was contacted. He missed a week of work after the donation.

"It's a week out of my life," he said. "It wasn't comfortable, but it wasn't anything anybody wouldn't do if they were in the same situation."

Because of confidentially rules, Healey knows little about his match. After a year, he will be told who she is and given contact info to get in touch with her if he chooses.