Starting this season, the focus of the Rare Disease Champion Award shifted to a team concept in order to provide a platform to recognize all the qualified leaders that have made a significant and lasting impact on the Rare Disease Community. The Rare Disease Champion Team ensures all the inspiring rare disease stories of qualified leaders in college football are shared and celebrated. Uplifting Athletes will honor the 2019 Rare Disease Champion Team at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala in Atlantic City and at the Uplifting Athletes Young Investigator Draft in Philadelphia March 6 and 7, respectively.
University: University of Pennsylvania
Vitals: 6-1, 190-pound, junior, student assistant/manager
Quick Hits: Anthony made the selfless decision to sign up to donate his bone marrow through Penn’s “Be The Match” program. While studying for finals in April of 2019, he found out he was a match with a leukemia patient and he arranged to donate his bone marrow over the summer during a break from football. As Anthony prepared for his bone marrow transplant, he was also recovering from a severe shoulder injury. His plan was to return to the field, but the injury was too severe and resulted in nerve damage that ended his football playing career. He’s still part of the Quakers team, serving as a student assistant coach and sending in defensive signals.
INSIDE THE STORY
The native of Freehold, New Jersey was thinking ahead when it came time to choose a college.
Anthony had a dozen offers to play football from colleges at both the FBS and FCS levels. And football was extremely important to the defensive back who was an all-state star in high school.
He had plenty of options, but in the end, the combination of an Ivy League education and the football program at Penn made it an easy decision for Anthony.
That decision would end up having lift altering ramifications for Anthony on a couple fronts.
Shortly after arriving on campus he learned about the Penn football program’s commitment to the “Be The Match” bone marrow transplant registry. It was such an easy process, as Anthony said, registering was a no-brainer.
And then, in his own words, he kind of forgot about signing up before getting a phone call during finals week in the spring of 2019 while studying in the library.
The call had exquisite timing for Anthony, because he was struggling. Not long before being told he was a match to become a bone marrow transplant donor, the junior found out his football playing days were over.
“Football was part of my life for 12 years. I just loved the game. It was my outlet for everything in my life. And in the blink of an eye it was suddenly gone,” Anthony said. “When I got the call for a match it gave me a new perspective on life. It put me right back on track and my life is going great again.”
During preseason camp prior to the 2018 season, Anthony was vying for playing time as a starting safety for the Quakers defense. Already battling a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Anthony suffered a much larger injury in the same shoulder during practice. He tore his rotator cuff and shattered his scapula (shoulder blade) on the same play and headed for surgery and rehab.
The plan was for him to return to practice during Spring Ball on a limited basis and, once fully recovered, resume vying for playing time at safety. That was the plan, at least. When he started working out to get ready for his return, he noticed severe numbness in his left arm. The diagnosis was that his injury also caused nerve damage and he was told his football playing days were over.
Several weeks later he received the call from Be The Match.
“My dad said something to me that really stood out and has stayed with me,” Anthony said. “He told me that I wouldn’t be part of Be The Match if I didn’t have football. He also told me doing the bone marrow transplant has way more impact than the 12 years you played football.”
Being medically disqualified has not stopped Anthony from staying involved with the football program, though. Last season he served as a student assistant/manager – in his words doing a little bit of anything I can to help out – and plans to do it again for his senior season in 2020.
THE RARE JOURNEY
You have less than a 1 percent chance of being picked to become a bone marrow transplant donor when you sign up for a registry.
Anthony became the fifth Penn football player, the first since 2016, to donate since the Quakers’ football team paired up with Be The Match a dozen years ago.
Be The Match was started by former Villanova Head Football Coach Andy Talley, who has dedicated more than 18 years to raising awareness about the need for marrow donors and increasing the likelihood that all patients receive the life-saving transplant they need. In addition to Penn, more than 100 college football programs participate in the program annually.
More than 18 months after joining the registry, Anthony found out he was a match for a 37-year-old mother who was battling leukemia.
All Anthony could think about was how grateful he was to be able to donate to a mom. He has a strong relationship with his mom and his recipient’s children weighed heavily on his mind as he went through three months of intensive blood tests prior to donating his bone marrow.
“Anybody you can donate too, that’s all you care about when you sign up,” Anthony said. “But being told the patient was a mom and knowing the impact my mom had on me … I wanted her kids to have the same opportunity. Based on her age, they are probably young kids, it was a special moment for me.”
This summer Anthony will find out of his bone marrow donation turned out. The standard buffer for a transplant and success is a year. If it turned out to be a success, he will have the opportunity to meet the mother and her family if they consent.
During the process of getting ready for his donation procedure, Anthony relied on teammate Sam Phillip, who donated after the 2016 football season, for advice.
So when the duo was summoned to what they thought was a Skype interview promoting and talking about Penn football and the Be The Match program, it’s safe to say they were shocked when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suddenly appeared on the screen.
“Yeah that was kind of crazy. We were staring at a blank screen waiting for the interview to start and Roger Goodell sits down,” Anthony said. “It was all very confusing and happened so fast.”
Goodell surprised the duo by announcing they were each receiving tickets to Super Bowl LIV, along with a guest, in Miami as part of the NFL’s commitment to rewarding members of the football community who have performed selfless acts.
WHAT THEY SAID
“It wasn’t the storybook ending I wanted and pictured for my football career. I envisioned myself playing and winning an Ivy League championship. That wasn’t my lot in life. I’m proud of my football career and I learned a lot about myself as a student-athlete. I wanted to use football to get a great education and that’s why I chose Penn. Not only am I getting a great education, but because I chose Penn, I’ve acquired an invaluable life lesson by becoming a bone marrow transplant donor.” – Anthony Lotti