TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN
Wendy Bell of Hamiota holds a photo of Michael Schrenk, a stem cell donor whose stem cells helped save her life after she was diagnosed with acute myelofibrosis. Bell, who was also reliant on blood from donors, spoke at the Canadian Blood Services annual Partners for Life recognition luncheon at Remington's Seafood and Steakhouse on Thursday.
When Wendy Bell was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease in 1997, she was told she only had six months to live.Without the help of blood donors and a stem cell donor match, Bell was given little to no hope from doctors that she would survive a rare condition known as acute myelofibrosis.
"After the tests were run, they put my family in a room and gave us the bad news, it’s the worst news you could ever get," she said. "They said to go home and get your affairs in order, you have months to live."
At the time of her diagnosis, she was a wife and mother of three young children, one of which was also fighting for his life.
Her son Jayson was diagnosed with leukemia when he was only four years old. But thanks to several donors who provided him with enough blood to get him through chemotherapy, he is now a happy and healthy 22-year-old.
"You’d never know looking at him that he was ever sick," Wendy said.
But for Wendy, who lives in Hamiota, finding a donor didn’t come so easily.
It took doctors several months to find Wendy two potential donors, but they were determined to find her a perfect match in fear that her body would reject anything else. Luckily in June of 1997, a perfect match was found.
Wendy’s donor, Michael Schrenk, who now resides in Toronto, donated blood when he was 21 years old, not knowing that one day it would save somebody’s life.
"He didn’t realize what he had done for me," she said. "He just thought it was no big deal and for me, I had three babies at home."
Years later, she still keeps in touch with her donor and she even attended his wedding.
"I met my donor two years ago and it was wonderful, he’s like a big brother," she said.
Wendy was in Brandon Thursday sharing her story at the Canadian Blood Services annual Partners for Life recognition luncheon during which awards for outstanding achievement were given to members from CFB Shilo, the Brandon Sun and the Brandon Federal Building.
Wendy said it’s important for survivors like her to share their stories in hopes that it will encourage more people to give.
But she admits that it took her getting sick for her to fully understand just how much it’s needed.
"I was one of them, before I got sick I never gave not realizing the impact it has on people’s lives and it’s too bad that I had to go through this to realize that," she said. "So if I can help these people by inspiring them to give, by all means I’ll do it."
Currently, there are 106 Partners for Life organizations in Brandon and the Westman region that collectively gave 3,265 units of blood in 2012.
"We are also above the Manitoba partner picture," said Jenna Burdy, community development co-ordinator for the Brandon and Westman region. "We’re here to celebrate just how well the program did this year."
Thanks to donors like hers, Wendy will now able to watch her daughter walk down the aisle at her upcoming wedding, something she thought she’d never see.
"These are things I was told I would never experience so every milestone that I get to enjoy with my family is wonderful," she said. "You should always enjoy life and when they tell you that the odds aren’t in your favour, don’t give up because I am a miracle, I was given no hope."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 25, 2013