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Family's blood drive aids Bradenville teen with leukemia

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 8:21 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Kelly Palombo of Derry talks with John Puzak of Blairsville at the Central Blood Bank blood drive on March 3, 2013 at the Blairsville VFW.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Kelly Palombo of Derry talks with Kitty Kelly of Greensburg at the Central Blood Bank blood drive on March 3, 2013 at the Blairsville VFW.
Anthony Palombo, 14, of Bradenville, has T-cell acute lymphobiotic leukemia. Submitted

After hearing about her nephew's diagnosis of leukemia in February, Kristin Staats felt helpless.

She wanted to help 14-year-old Anthony Palombo, her sister Kelly Palombo and husband Gregory, but she didn't know how.

The Bradenville teenager believed he had strep throat but received word from his doctor that he has T-cell acute lymphobiotic leukemia, which would require a three-year treatment regimen with chemotherapy and blood transfusions.

So she organized a drive through the Central Blood Bank to help boost the supply of donations that Anthony might use as a patient in Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“This is just something small I could do to help,” Staats said.

The drive, held on March 3, garnered 75 volunteers and collected 69 units of blood, more than twice their goal of 30 units.

“I can't even express the words to thank them,” said Kelly Palombo, now on leave from her position as a teacher's assistant for the Derry Area School District to care for her son.

She thought Anthony had strep throat last month when they visited his doctor, who took blood work to test for mononucleosis.

Now after about a month of chemotherapy every Tuesday, Anthony is doing well, but he's often tired, his mother said.

“You just don't know from week to week. You just don't know,” she said.

Family and friends have been supportive, including some of Anthony's classmates from ninth grade at Derry Area Middle School. They shaved their heads in solidarity once Anthony had shaved his after most of his hair had fallen out from the chemotherapy.

“It took him a while to decide (to shave his head) because everybody said, ‘You can't lose your Justin Bieber hair,' because he's such a good-looking kid,” she said.

The illness is also tough on Anthony's 13-year-old sister Alyssa, who is worried about getting a cold and passing it to him. He has a weakened immune system.

“I'm so afraid to get sick,” Kelly Palombo said. “We get a common cold, we can get over it, but it could put him in the hospital.”

Staats said Anthony's family, including his grandfather Bruce Zedick, has rallied around him.

“We're always that close. This is just a different type of closeness,” she said.

Staats also is organizing a “basket bash” raffle from 4 to 8 p.m. May 11 in the Blairsville VFW Post No. 5821 at 9626 Route 22 West. By then, Staats hopes to set up a fund for donations.

Some donors at the blood drive were strangers who saw the flier with Anthony's photo and story, a part of the blood bank's “Replenish the Need” program.

Since January 2011, the drives in honor of local recipients of blood transfusions have collected 1,457 units at 28 drives, said Caitlyn Doyle, spokeswoman with the Central Blood Bank.

“It puts a face, a name, a story to it,” Doyle said.

Both the Staats and Palombo families stressed how thankful they are to those who have supported them.

“Everybody's been really great. I can't even describe it,” Kelly Palombo said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or