Bless the Donor

Karen Volpe

My name is Karen Volpe. I have just met the 5 year mark in my third remission and I have had two bone marrow transplants.

I have Leukemia – APL, a very rare form of blood cancer. It hit me at the age of 42 while my days were filled with the activities that go along with raising three beautiful children ages 5, 7 and 9.

When taken to a local hospital for low blood pressure and stomach cramping I was misdiagnosed multiple times. We had to wait 5 days for a leukemia diagnosis. Finally, I went by ambulance to the ER at the Indiana University Hospital under the orchestration of Dr. Larry Cripe. I was put into isolation for a month and administered a program of varied chemotherapy products and was eventually able to obtain a remission after 4 months of chemo.

That held for almost two years. I lost it and we were back at it. We had to use different drugs this time because the cancer is so smart that the same drugs do not historically work more than once. Dr. Cripe administered Arsenic Trioxide (rat poison). After 80+ daily doses of the arsenic, I got into my second remission. The bone marrow transplant was scheduled in Chicago. It was an auto transplant, not the traditional donor transplant. This was necessary because I was so sick and concern for my surviving a donor transplant was high.

“This transplant held for only 5 months. We were devastated. I was told I was dying and that I would be assisted through death.It is a process we will all go through. It was my time.” 

The thought of my children was my motivation. My oldest son, Will, said “Mom do whatever you have to do, I know you are in pain but don’t stop”. The strategy was to go to the rat poison again, eventually it worked. I received a donor transplant from my brother, Tommy, on Jan. 31, 2006 under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Schwartz. It still holds today.

I have a severe case of Graf v. host disease, knee replacement, hip replacement, each eye required surgery and all of these setbacks stem from the medications and chemo. I have an ongoing fight with skin cancer due to my heavy use of immune suppression drugs to battle my graf v. host disease. During the fight I had brain cancer, was blind, had spinal taps, total body irradiation, RSV and was in a coma. 

I required blood products for each step of these processes. Platelets, red blood, and any number of other products needed were ALWAYS available.  This is not the case everywhere. We have a very unique gift in having the Indiana Blood Center.

I have been the beneficiary of THOUSANDS of its products during surgery and for mere survival. After ten years fighting the fight of my life they have NEVER failed to produce the life saving gift of blood. I have felt very exposed and frightened over the years a various parts of my process but my fear never involves the lack of blood, keeping in mind that my blood was my enemy. It was killing me.

When I was told I was dying, we decided to take the kids to Virginia Beach one last time as a family. Dr. Cripe set me up with an Oncologist there to administer my blood products and chemo.

I was at the hospital while my family was at the beach, but we had our evenings together. Three days into the trip I was told that they could not administer my chemo because my platelet count was at 4. A count this low can cause you to bleed to death due to no clotting factors. I would just bleed out. The hospital staff informed me that they had NO platelets available. A ship was coming into port the next day. They had a plan to ask sailors to donate. If the sailors donated, I was to be #8 on the waiting list.

We immediately packed the car and headed back to Indiana. We knew where the reliable blood source was that would save my life. Thank you, Indiana Blood Center. You DO have MY undying gratitude!  I am here to prove it!

“May God continue to ‘bless the Donor’, I prayed this each time I received your gift of blood, when I was conscious……”

Karen, thank you for sharing such an inspiring story. We greatly appreciate the support and dedication you have put forth towards Indiana Blood Center.

Raise your sleeve for Karen and her courageous fight against leukemia. Make an appointment to donate blood today at DonorPoint.org and tomorrow… You’ll have someone’s undying gratitude.

5 thoughts on “Bless the Donor

  1. Pat says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your fight has given your daughter and son a special understanding of life that they pass upon everyone they come in contact with. I would like to tell the world how your family’s strength has made my family stronger. Thanks for fighting.

  2. Dianne says:

    Awesome story Karen. Your fight is amazing! I am a friend of your sister’s here at KSU. I am praying you will do well for much longer and I know that your appreciation for life could not be greater. Take care.

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