11th Annual Kenny Conidaris Blood Drive
“Kenny was 12 years old, and an active soccer player. He started to not feel well and it lasted about a month, with doctors telling us it was a cold or virus, and to let it run its course. Then the bruising began!” So explained Kathy Conidaris, Kenny’s mother, in talking about the 11th annual Kenny C Blood Drive & Marrow Search at the Lani Kai Island Resort at 1400 Estero Boulevard on Saturday, July 22, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Doctors claimed the bruises were from soccer but he hadn’t played in a month because he was so tired. I finally went online, punched in ‘Unexplained Bruises’ and everything came up leukemia. The next morning, I INSISTED our doctor do blood work, and with a prick of the finger, our lives changed forever! Kenny was immediately admitted to the hospital for blood transfusions, eventually being diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia, a sister disease to leukemia but much more rare, with only 2 or 3 out of a million kids getting it. His bone marrow does not make enough red blood cells, so to cure him, Kenny needs new bone marrow.”
No one in Kenny’s family was a match, Kathy related, “so his only option was to receive immunesuppressive treatment that lowers the body’s immune response, to prevent it from attacking bone marrow, to raise his blood count. Kenny now has Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria that is a rare life-threatening disease of the blood, characterized by clots and bone marrow function. He is on weekly chemotherapy treatments of SOLIRIS to keep his blood intact, but the problem is he will need this for the rest of his life, and it leaves him in pain that causes side effects like nausea. This is an ongoing battle, with no simple cure. We won’t stop until we find a bone marrow donor for Kenny, so our annual event saves lives.”
It’s Always a Great Day!
On the positive side, Kenny and his girlfriend are expecting their first child in a matter of days. “Kenny is THRILLED to take care of someone else, rather than everyone else taking care of him. He has always loved children and wanted a family and now he’s getting one, and they will actually test the baby to see if it is a match for him. Kenny currently works for a hospital in North Carolina, where he lives to be close to his medical treatment, and he plans to further his medical career once the baby arrives.” Unfortunately, with all this on his plate, Kenny cannot attend the blood drive.
As for the effects on the Conidaris Family, “It’s more a mental thing for us,” offered Kathy, “but it is hard as we are a very tight knit group, he and his sisters. I was so close to him, and now that he is so far away, that creates a lot of tears! We miss Kenny a lot, and when he is not feeling well, I can’t just throw my arms around him and make him his favorite meals!”
“We host the blood drive from the Key West Patio,” explained Lani Kai marketing director Ashle Royea, “with plenty of free giveaways and live entertainment, coordinated by Bob Tabarrini, who most people know as Sideshow Bob from ‘Sideshow Bob’s Electric Circus!’ In fact, Bob, along with Budweiser, is one of our two sponsors, as he heads the non-profit Lewis P. Tabarrini Children’s Music Foundation. Anyone who donates blood will receive a complementary t-shirt and snacks. This is a big event for the entire Lani Kai family!”
During the drive, the Lee Memorial Blood Center collects the blood donations. At this time of year, numbers drop because many donors go north, but the need never ends. Along with t-shirts, snacks and entertainment, all blood and bone donors will receive a wellness checkup including blood pressure, pulse, temperature, iron count and cholesterol screenings. Generally, healthy people age 18 and over who weigh at least 110 pounds can donate blood.
If you are between the ages of 18 to 44 and meet the health guidelines, you can join the bone marrow “Be The Match Registry” with a simple cheek swab that gathers cells from the inside of your mouth that goes to a lab for tissue typing. Every year, 12,000 patients with blood cancer need a marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant to live. The Conidaris’ have no match in their family, so they look for a volunteer donor who shares their heritage to give Kenny a second chance. For more information, please see BeTheMatch.org or call 800-MARROW-2 (627-7692).
“Come one, come all,” said Kathy! “Food, family and friends all come together to save some lives – it’s always a great day!”