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  April 16, 2001

Recipient of 'Gift of Life' Urges
Community to Donate Blood

Have you ever wondered what happens to the blood that is donated at an American Red Cross blood drive?

It goes to help people like 39 year-old Bob Druge, a 13-year UConn employee.

In fall 1997, Bob had what he and his doctors first thought was a sinus infection. But standard treatment with decongestants and antibiotics wasn't helpful in relieving Bob's symptoms. In December of that year, he called his physician again, when his symptoms progressed to include bleeding gums and a red rash on his legs.

"The doctor sent me for blood tests right away at the hospital," Bob recalls. "Later that afternoon, I found out I had some type of leukemia."

Bob was admitted to the hospital immediately. Tests later revealed that Bob was suffering from Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. Chemotherapy began two days after he was admitted to the hospital. He has since undergone a stem cell transplant, made possible by a stem cell donation from his brother.

Since his diagnosis, Bob's life has been turned upside down. He has spent a cumulative period of about six months in the hospital over the last three years, and he is currently preparing for a hip replacement operation, made necessary due to the use of prednisone during his cancer treatments. He has also suffered with chronic infections and constant fatigue.

"Fatigue has been ongoing," he says. "I was 36 when I was diagnosed. I'm 39 now. I don't feel 39. I don't think my life will ever be the same."

Like many cancer patients, Bob has received regular blood transfusions: more than 60 between January and November 1998. It's a resource Bob was glad was available to him when he needed it.

"I wouldn't be alive today without having the transfusions," he says. "All the medicines I had would not have been effective without blood."

Bob is thankful for the support he has received throughout his ordeal, especially from his wife, Lynne, his brothers, his mother and the UConn community. His colleagues in the locksmith and physical plant departments, were particularly helpful, and some collected and donated vacation time to him to keep his paycheck coming in. Some co-workers have even helped do chores around his house.

Bob has also grown close to the people at the Jean Marie Colbert Marrow Transplant Center at the University's John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, where he has been in continuing care as an outpatient almost since the beginning of his treatments.

"The wonderful staff in the marrow program have become my second family," he says.

Blood donors, though unknown to him, are also important. And Bob is doing his part to make certain that no one suffers due to a lack of blood.

"I worry about people who need blood for situations like mine or in accidents," he says. "I feel that one of the reasons I made it through is to get people to donate blood by telling my story. There are a lot of people who are eligible to donate who don't."

Bob's cancer is now in remission and he has been back at work full-time since November. Now he is seeking a way to turn his brush with death into something positive.

"I saw an ad in a magazine," he says. "It said 'Have you ever given a gift so wonderful, someone carries it around with them for the rest of their life?'

At the bottom it said 'Please give blood. There's a life that can be saved right now.' It really hit home for me."

Lynn Townsend

This week, the University is holding a week-long blood drive: Monday, April 16-Friday, April 20, at the African American Cultural Center, Hillside Road.

Times are: Monday & Tuesday, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Wednesday & Thursday, 11 a.m.-6:45 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Appointments are now being scheduled. If you are in generally good health, are 17 or older and weigh 110 pounds or more, you are urged to call (800) 448-3543 to make an appointment for this or any other blood drive in Connecticut. Appointments can also be requested via the web:

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