Many college students enjoy spending parts of their Semester Break on ski trips to the mountains or lounging on some tropical beach.
Manny Cabral, a junior at Texas Southern University, spent his break doing his part to save the life of a complete stranger.
On Dec. 20, doctors at the Roger Williams Medical Center extracted bone marrow from the former Tewksbury High star athlete to transplant to a patient battling a life-threatening illness.
"All they would tell me is that she is a 30-year-old woman," said Cabral. "They said she (was) scheduled to have the transplant the first week of January and they told me they'd let me know how she was doing."
Once Cabral was told he was a perfect match for a donor in need of a transplant, he didn't hesitate to agree to the procedure. For Cabral, it came down to family.
"If someone in my family was sick and their life was in danger and was in need of a bone marrow transplant, then I would pray that there was someone out there who was willing to step up,” he said.
The procedure was painful and Cabral needed a couple of weeks to recover back home in Tewksbury with his mom, Beth Cabral, and his younger brother. But he was in good shape and excellent spirits when he boarded a plane on Jan. 6 to return to Texas Southern to resume his college studies and baseball career.
“He needs to be commended for what he’s doing, but that’s the type of kid he is,” said head coach Michael Roberson, in an interview for the TSU webs site. “Manny lives simple and gives more than he expects. He has our support and prayers as he goes through his procedures.”
Back in May, as Cabral was finishing up his second year at Northern Essex Community College, being a bone marrow donor and playing Division 1 baseball wasn't on his "to do" list.
"I figured I'd go back to Northern Essex in the fall and take a few classes to finish my associates degree and then transfer to a four-year school in the spring," he said.
But fate stepped in not once but twice during the first week of July. First, Cabral received a call from the Caitlin Raymond International Bone Marrow Registry, telling him he was a possible match to a patient in need of a transplant.
Sheepishly, Cabral admits that at first he didn't know what the person on the other end of the phone was talking about. But after a few reminders, Cabral recalled that he had signed up for the registry, along with his (now ex) girlfriend just after his high school graduation in 2010.
"It was (my ex-girlfriend's) birthday and she saw the registry booth. She has the same first name as a the registry, but it's spelled differently, and she thought it was a sign," said Cabral. "So I filled out the paperwork and they did the mouth swab and that was it."
Cabral didn't give the registry another thought until he received the call in July.
But that wasn't the only life changing phone call Cabral would receive that week. Just a few days later, he received a phone call from the head baseball coach at TSU, telling the star catcher that they wanted to offer him a full baseball scholarship for the upcoming school year.
Cabral, who had won numerous baseball accolades at both Tewksbury High and Northern Essex, gladly accepted.
The next several months were something of a whirlwind for Cabral. In addition to fall baseball practices, classes and adjusting to life at Texas Southern, there were also forms, waivers and tests to make sure he was a perfect bone marrow donor for the patient in question.
Once the tests came back positive, the procedure was scheduled for the week after Cabral completed final exams for the fall semester. But first had to give two pints of blood that would later be used for him during the surgery.
This week, Manny Cabral will begin preparations for his first season of Division 1 college baseball and will prepare for the start of Spring Semester classes. But he will think often about the Roger Williams Medical Center and a 30-year-old woman that he likely will never meet.
And if the bone marrow transplant is successful and the woman recovers to live a full, long life, she will very likely give thanks for a young man who was willing to sacrifice and give something of himself for a total stranger.