First, the fatigue set in.
Michael Manganiello, a seemingly healthy man who loved to run, had a feeling something was wrong. The constant tiredness and his irregular heartbeat were enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room just before Easter.
But never could he have imagined the diagnosis that lay ahead.
Manganiello's white blood cell count was so low, doctors initially presumed he had leukemia or another form of blood cancer. But further tests provided a diagnosis far more dire: The 44-year-old Manganiello, a husband and father of three young children, had acute myelofibrosis, a rare condition where progressive scarring of the bone marrow prevents its ability to make blood cells.
His only chance for survival is bone marrow transplant.
Upon hearing Michael's story, Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine felt compelled to help. With little time to spare, he and Danielle Taglianetti, a friend of the Manganiello family, spearheaded Tuesday night's "Match for Michael," an event where Jets fans registered to have their cheeks swabbed and donate money to the National Marrow Donor Program. A portion of the proceeds also went to the Manganiello family.
More than 400 people attended the event in Eatontown, N.J., about 50 miles south of the Jets' team facility in Florham Park, N.J.
Manganiello was too sick to attend, but his wife said he would have been blown away by the outpouring of support, especially from his favorite team.
"He's like the No. 1 Jets fan," Margo Manganiello said with a smile. "The Jets have always been the top on his list, so he would think this is really cool."
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, head coach Rex Ryan, nose tackle Sione Pouha and linebacker Aaron Maybin also attended the event, which included an autograph signing and photo-op session with players and coaches.
"The position that we're put in, obviously, we've got a lot of cameras and lights, but when you can swing it to help another human being, I think that's a real treat," said Pouha, who also pointed out the DoubleTree Hotel that hosted the event was fittingly located on Hope Road. "That's the real purpose of why we're in the situation we're in."
Sanchez didn't hesitate to offer his support to Pettine, whom he considers to be more than just a coach.
"He's tough on you on the field, he wants to win, obviously, he's competitive. But when it comes to stuff like this and helping teammates, that's the kind of person he is," Sanchez said said. "So when he asked us, this was the least we could do."
"I just put myself in that family's shoes and I was like, 'Wow.' If I can help in any way, that's no problem," said Ryan. "You knew it would be a great event if Mike's going to be involved."
Pettine said it was "a no-brainer" to help organize the event. But first, he had to educate himself. "I didn't know it was as innocuous as a cheek swab," he said of bone marrow donations.
According to the National Marrow Donor Program web site, donating bone marrow is a surgical procedure done under general or regional anesthesia in a hospital. While a donor receives anesthesia, doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. Donating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) requires a non-surgical procedure done in an outpatient clinic.
Margo Manganiello said her husband recently underwent a chemotherapy treatment that removed some of the scarring on the bone marrow. But doctors hope to remove all of it before he can be a candidate for a transplant.
"AMF is very problematic," she said. "And unfortunately we're on a time frame. We don't have a lot of time."
The Manganiellos, of Wayside, N.J., have twins who recently turned 5 and a 3-year-old. In addition to caring for the kids, Margo, a retail store manager, also is running her husband's heating and air conditioning supply company.
"This is amazing," she said of Tuesday night's turnout. "It's just very humbling how a community comes together like this for such a great cause. Tonight has been so overwhelming, not only for my husband, who's waiting for a bone marrow transplant, but for other patients that are waiting for the same thing."
Learn more about bone marrow donations and Michael Manganiello's story at matchformichael.com.