Firefighter's family hopes public donates blood during drives

Sandra Donato was on the phone advocating for her brother.

A nurse in surgical intensive care at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Donato was in Naples on Friday, lighting a fire under a bone marrow search via a blood drive.

Firefighter Mark Sanders, 53, is a third generation Indiana firefighter afflicted with myelofibrosis, a bone marrow cancer that inhibits the production of blood cells.

“Mark is third generation firefighter,” Donato said Friday. Their dad, 80, is a retired firefighter. Mark’s son, Eric Sanders, 33, is also a firefighter, she said.

Friday afternoon, Community Blood Center of NCH Healthcare System coordinated a blood and bone marrow drive at Marquesa Center on the corner of Pine Ridge and Livingston roads.

Donato admitted that only a few donors trickled in, but was optimistic that Monday more people would find them and donate.

Monday, the drive will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Bonita Springs Fire Station, No. 4 at 27701 Bonita Grande Road, just east of Interstate 75 off of Bonita Beach Road.

Community Bank spokeswoman Laura Rosen, whom Donato first contacted when she wanted to launch the drive, explained that Sanders, who was seeking treatment in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., was told Friday that the Mayo Clinic is not going to proceed with the proposed marrow transplant.

That’s almost correct, said Donato, who was a surgical nurse with NCH Healthcare for 12 years starting in 1985, before she moved up to Tampa.

Sanders is a Mayo patient, but he’s home now because Mayo hadn’t found a donor.

In the interim, the Mayo Clinic enrolled Sanders in a clinical trial to reverse his anemia and prevent his spleen from swelling, Donato said.

The trial drug is a third generation thalidomide, Donato said. The transplant would be kind of like a stem cell transplant, Donato, 57, said Friday.

Mark Sanders was diagnosed about four months ago when he went for his annual firefighters’s physical.

It wasn’t immediately clear what he had.

Doctors palpated his enlarged spleen, then sent him to a hematologist. From there, he was sent to an oncologist.

He was referred to the University of Chicago Medical Center, Donato said.

Medical staff there checked the National Registry. While a donating family member is a patient’s best chance, that’s still only a 30 percent match, Donato said.

While Donato is down here, her parents are up in Cassopolis, Mich. The local tie? Her parents spend their winters in Bonita Springs.

Sandra and Mark were born and reared in Hammond, Ind.

On June 19 and 20 that town will hold a blood drive, Donato said.

“The mayor of Hammond is going to be there,” Donato said.

Sanders now lives in Lowell, Ind.

Asked how she came to organize all of this, Donato said she’s been a member of the National Registry for years. From there, she checked out Marrow.Org. She found an “800” number.

“They give you contacts for here in Naples,” Donato said. “It’s usually through the blood center in that community.”

Once Sanders begins the experimental treatment, he’ll have to travel once a month to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Donato said.

The family is also planning to take a look at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

“It’s supposed to be the best,” Donato said.

Friday morning, at a fire district consolidation meeting, fire industry leaders said they knew of the drive but had never met Mark Sanders.

It doesn’t matter, said Golden Gate Chief Bob Metzger.

“He’s a firefighter. He’s a brother,” Metzger said.

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