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Bethlehem is helping a hero

Blood truly is thicker than water as one Bethlehem family has discovered.

A parent's worst nightmare has turned into a miracle for the Okoniewski family when their 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder and her older brother donated life-saving bone morrow that has given the little girl a new lease on life.

In response, the Bethlehem community has stepped up by raising money for the Okoniewskis and will be holding a fundraiser called Heroes for Hope on Saturday, June 7, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Delmar Reformed Church.

"It's called Myelodysplasia Syndrome. It's a kind of leukemia," said Arlene Okoniewski. "We caught it in time. It was actually caught by accident when she had some wheezing in the chest area."

Okoniewski said her daughter, Serena, was 3 when they took her to the doctors to check on what she thought may have been asthma and also to check her blood levels for lead following national toy recalls from Chinese manufacturing plants.

She wasn't prepared, however, when the doctors said there was no lead in Serena's system but that there were "abnormalities" in her blood.

The Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or MDS, was formerly known as "pre-leukemia." It is a variety of blood, bone marrow, and lymph node conditions united by ineffective production of blood cells and has varying risks of transforming into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).

Approximately one-third of patients with MDS progress to AML within months to a few years.

In a majority of cases, the disease's course is chronic with degenerative affects, and Serena's case is extremely rare because the median age at diagnosis is between 60 and 75 and males are slightly more commonly affected than females are.

"We were scared and we all got tested as possible bone marrow donors," Okoniewski said. "None of us matched except our 10-year-old son, Steven. He was a perfect match."

Donations of goods to be raffled off or be in the yard sale, to volunteer, or for any other information on the event, contact Veronica Roddy at 478-2232 or vroddy@nycapp.rr.com.

Monetary donations can also be made to the "Heroes for Hope Fund" at any local SEFCU branch, Roddy said.

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