After 13 years, 35 blood drives, more than 5,000 units collected and more than 15,000 patients helped, the Carol H. Axelrod Memorial Blood Drive is coming to an end.
Wayne resident Michelle Scolnick, who founded and ran the drive to honor her mother, Carol Axelrod, announced the decision in an email to supporters on Sept. 30.
She called the decision “a very difficult one” for her family.
“We consider everyone who contributes to the success of our drives — donors, volunteers, sponsors and supporters — to be part of our extended blood drive family,” Scolnick wrote.
The pandemic made the events more difficult to hold over the past year-and-a-half. Crowds had to be smaller, venues were less open to hosting and donors were less willing to give blood, Scolnick said.
At the same time, the pandemic gave the 48-year-old a chance to step back and reflect. With her daughter, Emily Scolnick, graduating from high school this year, the mother just realized it was time for her to move on, too.
“When I realized I had been doing this since she was 3, and that she was making changes in her life, I felt it was time for me to start exploring other opportunities,” Scolnick said.
For Scolnick, the journey started in 2003 when her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood and bone marrow cancer.
Before the diagnosis, there was no foreshadowing. Axelrod was healthy.
But at her annual physical, Axelrod’s doctor noticed something wrong and referred her to an oncologist, who made the diagnosis.
For more than a year, though, Scolnick’s mother was still fine. According to Scolnick, her mom had smoldering myeloma, the slow-moving, precancerous stage that doesn’t require treatment.
Every two months, Axelrod had to visit the doctor to make sure she was still in that stage, and Scolnick often went with her. Her July 2004 checkup was as normal as the others.
The doctor did blood work and asked Axelrod how she was feeling.
“Fine,” she answered.
Later that day, he called her to say her kidneys were failing. Axelrod needed to start treatment immediately.
Over the next few years, she underwent two stem cell transplants and a massive dose of chemotherapy designed to kill the diseased bone marrow. Doctors wanted to harvest Axelrod’s stem cells and then give them back to her, so they would multiply cancer-free.
Scolnick’s mother was only in her late 50s. She wanted to try what her daughter described as “the most aggressive treatment option available.” But in the end, it was her cancer that proved too aggressive.
“Each treatment would seem to work, then stop,” Scolnick said. “Then she’d move on to something else, that would seem to work and then stop.”
In July 2007, Axelrod’s nose started bleeding and wouldn’t cease, a dangerous situation for someone being treated for myeloma, which can cause blood clots. Axelrod entered the Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, and even emergency room doctors couldn’t stop the bleeding.
They had to give her blood and platelet transfusions to replace the original blood. But after a few days, Axelrod’s body started to reject those, too. There was only one way for her to survive: find donors with similar enough blood that her body wouldn’t reject.
Luckily, over the course of a week, Lankenau doctors worked with the American Red Cross to find those anonymous donors.
After the successful procedures, Axelrod left the hospital and lived, on her own, for another year. She just had to visit the hospital each week for transfusions.
In the year following the procedure, Axelrod celebrated Scolnick’s 10th wedding anniversary and Emily’s third birthday. The relatively new grandmother also got to take her granddaughter to Gymboree and music class.
Scolnick made sure to take pictures of the two of them together.
“My mom was there,” Scolnick said. “We’re so lucky we have that memory.”
Axelrod died on July 1, 2008. That fall, Scolnick approached Lankenau doctors about repaying them with a blood drive.
The doctors said yes, and the Scolnicks turned out family members, friends and acquaintances. Once word spread who the drive was honoring, hospital employees turned out, too.
“Hospital employees knew my mother,” Scolnick said. “She had a great sense of humor and stayed upbeat.”
It became the most successful blood drive in the hospital’s history to that point, Scolnick said.
The family eventually turned the collections into quarterly events, one per season every year, at locations around the region. Between 2017-’20, the family held annual drives at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, where Emily Scolnick is a student.
For those events, Emily Scolnick, not her mother, ran point, scheduling appointments, writing recruitment emails and speaking at assemblies to encourage students and their parents to donate.
“I wish I had gotten to spend more time with her,” Emily Skolnick said of her grandmother. “Her legacy has certainly lived on.”
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