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Hockey community called upon to “Be the Match”

01/29/2014, 3:30pm EST
By Paul D. Bowker - Special to USAHockey.com

The trouble for hockey player Anthony Daniels first surfaced with an itchy ankle more than two years ago.

“That one itch,” says Kevin Daniels, a proud hockey dad, “he was trying to itch through his skin.”

Daniels’ severe itch eventually led to a chest x-ray, which, in turn, led to a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic and immune system. Today, Anthony Daniels is hoping somebody out there, perhaps someone in the USA Hockey community, can save his life as a white blood cell donor.

Anthony, 22, a student and former hockey player at Fordham University, lives in Ridgewood, a town of about 25,000 in northern New Jersey. He played high school hockey there. Beginning when he was 6 years old, Anthony played youth hockey at Ice Vault Arena in nearby Wayne. He became a player in the New Jersey Bandit organization, including for the Jersey Hitmen of the Empire Junior Hockey League.

Anthony’s dad was a youth hockey coach. One of Anthony’s best friends is the son of another coach he played for.

And now their lives are intertwined in a most personal way.

“It’s difficult to see him go through this kind of situation and not be able to beat it,” said Ken Scarpa, whose son Kyle played with Anthony all through youth and high school hockey and still works out with him. “He’s always been successful at what he’s attempted.”

Kevin Daniels still remembers the day he received the news about his son: three days before Christmas in 2011.

More than two years later he and many others are leading an effort to find a life-saving donor for Anthony. Scarpa, who is now coach of the New York Junior Saints in the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, says more than 1,400 emails were sent out through the Saints hockey program on Anthony’s behalf. Hockey players have lined up to get tested. A letter written by Kevin Daniels was published in USA Junior Hockey Magazine.

Bobby Reiss, owner of Ice Vault Arena, where Anthony played, has spread the word. One recent day, when Kevin Daniels went to the rink, he discovered that an information booth for possible donors had been set up at the front door while high school games were being played.

Reiss, Kevin Daniels said, “treats [Anthony] like he’s his own kid. It’s been unbelievable.”

At every turn, Kevin Daniels said, the support for his son has been strong.

“My wife and I have been bombarded with hockey moms, hockey dads,” he said. “The hockey community that we grew up in has reached out to us.”

Anthony Daniels needs a donor for white blood cells because of his own failing immune system. His body, Kevin Daniels said, can’t handle the cancer cells. Anthony underwent an autologous bone marrow transplant (he was his own donor) last March, but the procedure did not halt his blood disease.

Because a donor match is rare — as few as 5 percent might be an acceptable match — the call is going out for help. Kevin Daniels said the National Marrow Donor Program registry (bethematch.org) does not have a match for Anthony.

“We need to find a donor,” Kevin Daniels said. “Hopefully, in this process, somebody else will find donors through this.”

“The scary part about this situation is we’ve got to try to find a solution for him in a relatively short time,” Scarpa said. “Everybody kind of responded to the call. I know my own junior team has gone out and signed up to be tested. The former high school team he played for here in Ridgewood has done it.”

Wellness centers in nearly 40 PepsiCo plants are also running donor drives. Kevin Daniels works for PepsiCo, a large global food and beverage company with more than 200,000 employees.

Want to help? The procedure of being tested involves only a swab of the inside of your cheek. Those who are potential donor matches can go through the process at a Red Cross station or at a hospital. The strongest match possibilities are between the ages of 18 and 44 years.

Simply go to BeTheMatch.org for more information and sign up.

Once a donor is found, the white blood cells are separated at the time of the donation.

Anthony Daniels undergoes regular treatments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He has maintained a blog through the whole process and still works out in order to keep his strength up.

Anthony’s strength through the whole process has touched others. After speaking at the Washington Township Knights of Columbus’ annual Christmas charity dinner, he received a “monster round of applause,” Kevin Daniels said.

“I learned to compete and to be a teammate with the best players and families I know,” Anthony said in his speech. “I will never stop working to beat this.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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