By Chris Gionta
On a Wednesday morning in Boston, Massachusetts, a Springfield College graduate student sat calmly in a hospital room with needles in both arms. He had to sit in the room for six hours. Surrounding him were computers and machines with charts and data, a small table with food on it above his lap, and a television that was his only source of entertainment for the long stay.
The student was Pat Tuohy, and the reason he sat in that hospital room was to donate STEM cells in order to attempt to save the life of a 60-year-old man with leukemia.
Tuohy is the punter for the Pride football team, which holds an annual donor drive where the team encourages students and faculty to get involved in potentially donating to others who need it.
“We walk all over campus, and we’re trying to bring people in and have them sign up and take a DNA kit,” Tuohy said.
People who participate in the donor drive have their DNA sent into a program and get put on a registry. Then, when patients need a donation, those on the registry have their DNA samples tested to see if they are matches to the people who need it.
In May of this year, Tuohy was notified that there was a strong possibility he was one of these matches. He was set up to do preliminary bloodwork, and in July, he was informed he was a strong match and that the hospital wanted to move forward with the process of donating.
The hospital determined they would need a donation from Tuohy within a few weeks of them finding out how good of a match he was. He would have to miss some practices in order to get this done, but it was in full support of the coaching staff.
“My coaches were completely fine with it because they started it. They were the reason we got on this,” Tuohy said.
The week prior to the donation, he went to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to get blood work done and understand the process in which he was taking part. Then, he started to receive injections into his skin to boost his STEM cell production.
Finally, the day of donation arrived. He walked into the hospital early on Aug. 31 and let the doctors do their work.
“There was a needle in both of my arms. They drew the blood out from my left arm. It went into this big machine which stirred it up, pulled the STEM cells out, and put the STEM cells in a bag and then returned the blood into my other arm. So, I was never losing blood — I was completely fine the entire time,” Tuohy said.
The experience was gratifying for the business management major for a multitude of reasons.
“Obviously, I was a little nervous going into it, but I would do it again if I was given this great opportunity,” Tuohy said. “It’s definitely a really great experience because you can tell just how grateful people are. It’s not just the people I’m donating the STEM cells to, but everyone else — all the nurses and everyone else around were just really grateful and really happy… it felt really good for me.”
After Tuohy was finished with the operation, he was told to “lay low” for about 48 hours. Not much more than 48 hours after he was told this, it was game time.
His donation was completed around 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 31, and Springfield was playing its season opener against Western New England at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2.
The Pride scored six touchdowns in their season opener, so Tuohy’s time on the field was limited. He sent one punt for 34 yards in the 42-14 victory. However, his number was called more in the team’s next game, and he delivered on every opportunity.
In the first quarter against Rowan, the Pride had a fourth-and-26 situation at Rowan’s 38 yard-line. Tuohy booted one high in the air toward the right sideline. It initially bounced inside the 10 yard-line, then rolled out of bounds just before the end zone at the one yard-line.
He was called on three more times, and on all of those opportunities, he pinned Rowan inside its own 15 yard-line.
As a result of his success, Tuohy was chosen to D3football.com’s National Team of the Week.
His first punt of Springfield’s next game may have outdone what he did the previous week. On fourth down with Springfield at its own 16, Tuohy was lined up near the Pride’s goal line. He took the snap and sent the ball flying 54 yards. Union’s punt returner had to run back to get the ball and did not catch the punt cleanly nor gain positive yardage on the return.
He came off the field to much embracement from his teammates. In between high-fives, he flexed his right bicep. In that moment, he expressed strength for himself. Less than three weeks prior, he provided strength to a stranger who needed it most.
Photo: Pat Tuohy