Blood drives support local educator fighting leukemia

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Mark Senn thought his troubles were over when he won his battle with brain cancer.

After undergoing surgery to remove the Grade 3 tumor in his head and surviving a year of chemotherapy, he was feeling good and enjoying life.

Elaine and Mark Senn
Elaine and Mark Senn

Four years after beating cancer, he’s back in the hospital — only this time it’s his wife who’s fighting the dreaded disease.

Despite having no symptoms, Elaine Senn was diagnosed with leukemia Jan. 2. Earlier this month she received a stem cell transplant from her sister Julie, offering her the best chance for long-term remission.

“It overwhelms me at times,” said Mark Senn, the father of two teenage children and senior director of Beaufort Memorial’s LifeFit Wellness Center. “It’s a lot easier to be the patient and face the possibility of not surviving cancer than to see someone you love go through it.”

Prior to receiving the infusion of stem cells at the Medical University of South Carolina, Elaine Senn went through weeks of chemotherapy and radiation that destroyed the immune factors in her blood. As a result, she needs an extensive amount of blood and blood products.

Over the last two months, the Beaufort community has rallied around the Coosa Elementary School media assistant and former assistant girls’ basketball coach at Beaufort High School, dedicating a half-dozen blood drives in her honor. The next event is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Tuesday, April 29 at Battery Creek High School.

Several more blood drives have been set for next month. The dates include May 2 at Whale Branch Early College High School in Seabrook, May 9 at Beaufort High and May 12 and 13 at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

In addition to the dedicated blood drives, donors also can give blood at The Blood Alliance Donor Center, 1001 Boundary Street.

Even with health insurance, the Senns will rack up tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses for their combined cancer treatments. However, a recipient benefits plan offered to through The Blood Alliance allows a donor to dedicate their donation account credits to Senn’s account.  The plan will reimburse 20% of the distribution cost incurred by The Blood Alliance for blood products shipped to the hospital for Senn’s use.

“Acute lymphoblastic leukemia requires very aggressive treatment,” said Beaufort Memorial Medical Director of Laboratories Dr. Brad Collins, a pathologist specializing in blood diseases. “To kill all the cancerous cells in her bone marrow, they also have to kill all the normal cells.”

Leukemia is just one of several blood disorders that require large amounts of blood for treatment.

“These kinds of blood drives help create awareness of the need for donors,” said Karen Wyman, regional manager for The Blood Alliance, the sole supplier of blood and blood products for six hospitals from Mount Pleasant to Hilton Head Island. “The next donation is always the most important one because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next two days that would create a need for blood.”

Now recovering from the transplant, Senn is expected to remain in the hospital until later this week. Once she is discharged, she will need to stay within a 10-minute drive of MUSC for another 75 days to be able to survive any kind of medical crisis.

“The support we have received from the community helps keep us moving forward,” Mark Senn said. “The doctors have given us a 35 to 50 percent chance for long-term remission. That’s a whole lot better than zero.”