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Villanova's Jake Prus sacrifices playing time for good cause

Offensive lineman is a match for a bone-marrow donation and will participate in the life-saving procedure next week.

IN EARLY JUNE, Villanova junior offensive lineman Jake Prus was enjoying a vacation in Ocean City, Md. Like every year, his family rented a house for a week, when there is no football, to relax and spend time with one another. Prus left his phone at the house while he went to enjoy the shore.

When he returned, he had texts and missed calls. The calls were the type that many would be wary of, but he welcomed wholeheartedly.

They were to tell him that he was a perfect match to be a bone-marrow donor, and that someone was in need of his cells.

In Prus' freshman year in the Villanova football program, head coach Andy Talley had all the freshmen sign up for the bone-marrow registry, as he does every year. Only one in 540 people who sign up to be in the program end up donating, according to BeTheMatch.org. In Talley's 20 years being involved with the program, only four players have matched. Prus is one of them.

"I was glad," Prus said. "When I initially signed up, I wanted to be one of the guys that donated. Coach Talley has us all volunteer to do it every year. My job last year was actually convincing the people who weren't sure about doing it to do it. In a way, I convinced myself to do it while I was doing it all."

Having bought into the process, he is not scared of what is to come in the next week or so, despite it meaning missing up to three games of his junior season. He scheduled the procedure at Hahnemann University Medical Center.  There, the Woodstown, N.J. native will donate bone marrow in the form of giving peripheral blood stem cells. He will be in the hospital for about eight hours for the procedure.

A machine will draw blood out of his arm, then filter the stem cells from the blood that will go to the recipient. Prus is not allowed to know the patient's identity for a year after the procedure. He does know that the recipient is 65 years old and has myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, in which blood-forming cells in the bone marrow are damaged.

Prus' major is pre-med, which has given him an interest in everything about the procedure. His goal is to be a general practice physician or an orthopedic surgeon. He said he had plenty of specific questions for the person from the registry assigned to his case.

"I am going into the medical field, because I want to help people in this way," Prus said. "Getting some pre- exposure to that is always a good thing."

Prus must take medications starting Sunday, including injections each day until the procedure. From what he has researched, it is much like having the flu in the days before and after the donation.

"There was a little apprehension when I first heard about it, because you think a bone-marrow donation is going to be kind of intense and take you out for a while physically and just drain you," Prus said. "I'm not too worried about it, because, from what I've been told, the post effects aren't painful."

As a football player, early September is usually an exciting time, with training camp ending and a new season beginning. Expectations are high on Lancaster Avenue this season, and Prus, a 6-6, 300 pounds is regarded as the Wildcats' best offensive lineman. He started all 13 games last year.

The timing of the procedure will interfere with his season. The redshirt junior will be able to play against UConn tomorrwo night, but then will begin gearing up for the donation. He will miss Villanova's games against Fordham on Sept. 12, Delaware on the 19th and most likely Penn on the 24th. After that, the Wildcats have a bye week, which will give Prus time to get back to form. His expected return is against William & Mary on Oct. 10.

The donation was planned for earlier, but the patient was not healthy enough to receive the stem cells at that time.

"I wanted to get it done as soon as possible," Prus said. "Originally, I was only going to miss camp, like, three weeks of camp. It got delayed a couple of weeks, which then cut in [to the end of training camp]. Now that I am doing it right after UConn, I am going to miss a big chunk of the season. That was disappointing."

Thought Prus' absence might hurt the Wildcats' chances early in the season, he said his teammates seem to have great perspective about what he is going through, and just how important it is.

"They are all happy about it," Prus said. "They're a little disappointed I'm going to be missing a few games, especially because this is such a big year for our program. But they understand."

Villanova last won a football national championship in 2009. That was also the last year they had someone match to be a bone-marrow donor. Matt Szczur, who now plays for the Chicago Cubs, had a procedure following their championship season. Szczur's cells saved a young girl's life in Israel.

Prus knows that winning a national championship would be cool, yet there might be something more rewarding he can help win for someone: a second chance at life.

"It's cool being able to save someone's life by doing so little on my part," Prus said.

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