This article appeared in the State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper, on Oct. 28, 1998.

Cajic garners support from fans, ex-teammates.
Former ASU lineman fights battle with leukemia, relentlessly searches for donor

By Ed Odeven

Once a Sun Devil, always a Sun Devil.

For ex-ASU football player Joe Cajic, that sentiment was exemplified Tuesday night in his honor as several hundred fans showed up at ASU’s Karsten Golf Course to help raise money for the Joe Cajic Foundation.

Cajic, an offensive lineman at ASU from 1993-94, was diagnosed with leukemia in December 1997. He was given four years to live unless he found a life-saving bone marrow donor.

So far, Cajic has not found one. But he continues to search for a donor through the National Marrow Donor Pool.

Last night’s autograph party, hosted by the Sun Angel Foundation, United Blood Services and the Joe Cajic Foundation, raised approximately $10,000.

But more importantly, it reminded Cajic what it means to be a Sun Devil.

“It’s amazing how many people have showed up here to show support for me as well as for the other people that are out there in the situations that I’m in,” the bulky 6-foot-5 Croatian-American said. “This is absolutely wonderful — not just the fans showing up, but old friends of mine… This is like a reunion for me. There’s a bunch of guys we played with right here.”

Among Cajic’s former teammates in attendance were Jake “The Snake” Plummer, Mario Bates and Cardinals rookie free safety Pat Tillman, who was busy signing autographs all night.

“It’s the least we can do,” Tillman said between shaking fans’ hands and signing posters. “We (NFL players) are in an area where we get a lot of attention and we can take advantage of that.

“This is a chance to do something to help him a great deal and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

So was Mike Layton, a co-worker of Cajic’s.

“It’s amazing that all these people came out,” said Layton, who has worked at Cajic’s roofing company for two years. “They come out for celebrities, but Joe is the kind of person that people can take an instant liking to.

“He’s a big lovable guy.”

And Cajic’s will to live has been aided by the advice of caring ex-teammates.

“(They tell me) just keep marching,” he said. “Keep doing it (fighting leukemia). Take one step at a time. And that’s what I’ve been concentrating on.”

“They are all giving me 100 percent support and that’s lifting me up. As you can imagine, it’s a disease that’s day-to-day. (It’s a) disease that you get frustrated by because you can’t find a donor. But these guys are giving me the spirit and the energy that’s going to last a long time.”

Although he hasn’t found a donor, Cajic’s steadfast determination and commitment have not been shaken.

“I’ll do whatever I can to get people to know about this (disease),” he said sincerely. “An example of this is mammogram testing. Five years ago, the percent of the population (tested for mammograms) was extremely low. Now, it’s high.

“I want peoplel to know they can save somebody’s life. I want people once they turn 18 to go out and register (to vote) and donate blood for bone marrow testing.”

Bone marrow testing typically costs $40. However, funds from last night’s autograph party will be used to provide free testing across the country, including free testing for the first 2,000 participants at Paradise Valley Mall on Nov. 7 starting at at 9 a.m.

Cajic has contacted 52 Croatian Catholic churches across the country. The churches have coordinated their efforts to assist Cajic.

“The possibilities of being matched, I’ve been told anywhere from one million to one (odds) in the general population,” he said. “However, if you can narrow down the ethnicity, which we have with me, I’ve heard the odds are as good as 20,000 to one. So that basically breaks down to about 350 people per church.

“That’s not difficult. That’s something that can be done.”


2016 update: Joe Cajic received a life-saving bone marrow transplant in 1999. He serves on the board of directors for Sun Devil Family Charities.