Cortland coach goes under the knife in hopes of saving a life

Itâ??s back to the grind for receiversâ?? coach Nate Pagan and the Cortland Red Dragons as they gear up for their September 6 season opener against Buffalo State.

While many are feeling fresh after a summer off, Pagan is just beginning to feel normal again. Thatâ??s because Paganâ??s travels this summer brought him to Philadelphia, where he underwent surgery in hopes of saving the life of a complete stranger.

â??When you hear bone marrow everyone gets freaked out,â?? said Pagan smiling in the early morning hours on June 25 between pre-surgery checks from the nursing staff of Hahnemann University Hospital. â??All it was was a mouth swab.â??

Thatâ??s how this journey began: a mouth swab taken Paganâ??s sophomore year as a wide receiver at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Each year dozens of college football programs across the country hold bone marrow drives as part of the â??Get in the Game, Save A Lifeâ?? program. Players, coaches, friends and family members are encouraged to enter the national bone marrow registry with a quick and painless swab from the inside of the cheek.

A bone marrow donation can help patients win their battles with blood diseases. Every four minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer and 70-percent of patients will not have a suitable donor match within their family.

Four years after his mouth swab, now graduated and working as receiversâ?? coach at SUNY Cortland, Pagan learned he was a match for someone fighting blood cancer, in dire need of a donor. Due to strict confidentiality laws, Pagan was told very little about the stranger who needed his help: a male, just one year younger than him, battling Hodgkinâ??s lymphoma.

Pagan didnâ??t think twice about making his donation.

â??I think God is doing something and I'm just fortunate enough to help someone. That's really important to me. To be so young, 23â?¦you just never know,â?? said Pagan, his voice wavering with emotion before being wheeled away to surgery. â??God really does wonders.â??

Pagan is the latest from the SUNY Cortland family to make this sort of sacrifice. Three years ago, then-linebacker John Stephens donated his marrow as well. In 2012, Stephens received the ultimate reward: he had the chance to meet the little girl whose life was saved by his selfless gift.

â??Iâ??m going to be very anxious to meet him, but you know, thereâ??s no guarantee that heâ??ll survive, but thatâ??s the hope,â?? Pagan cautioned about his match. â??Being able to have an influence on someoneâ??s life is kind of the whole goal and thatâ??s kind of my whole goal as a coach as well, to be able to influence young individuals.â??

Itâ??s taken the better part of the summer for Pagan to recover from the surgery, heâ??s only just now able to run and workout like normal again. Through his recovery and despite weeks of lower back pain, Pagan says heâ??s never once questioned making the donation.

"I was pretty sore, but it was definitely worth it and now I've finally recovered,â?? Pagan laughed after practice in Cortland Thursday. â??I don't think I've ever second-guessed it. My players and my parents all ask me if I'd do it again. Absolutely. The soreness was only for a little while and it went away, so it was definitely worth it."

It will still be a year before Paganâ??s recipient will be allowed to contact him, if he chooses to do so, but he has learned that his match is also doing well since the donation and is beginning to grow and make healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.