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Family battles leukemia

January 17, 2010
By Serra Muscatello — Staff Writer

HANSKA - It was about a year ago, the Fortwengler Family of Hanska learned that son Blake, who is now 10 years old, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

Blake had told his mother, Jodi, one day last year that he felt a bump on his neck. It looked like it could have been a viral infection so it was treated like one for a couple of weeks. His condition was not improving at all. He woke up his mother at night saying that his "heart felt heavy."

"The 20th of January was the last straw," said Jodi. "I took him in and knew something wasn't right."

Article Photos

Submitted photo

Pictured here is the Fortwengler Family of Hanska with mother Jodi Fortwengler (middle) and daughter Abby (left) and son Blake (on the right).

Her son was taken that day by ambulance to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He had a mass on his chest and his airway was constricted, Jodi said.

"I remember getting to the Mayo," said Jodi. "One doctor was there at 2 a.m. in the morning explaining things to us. I just couldn't believe how nice they were there. The sack around his heart was filling up with fluid - they had to drain it... it was painful for him."

On Jan. 24 doctors at the Mayo had diagnosed Blake with acute bilineage leukemia (two types at one time), a combination of acute myeloid leukemia and t-cell leukemia.

Fact Box

"It's life-changing to go through what we're going through. The way I look at everything... you don't take a moment for granted," Jodi Fortwengler, of Hanska, whose son Blake has been diagnosed with acute bilineage leukemia (two types at one time), a combination of acute myeloid leukemia and t-cell leukemia. Her son has received at least eight blood transfusions (and also platelets) from the American Red Cross.

If you go:

What: Three-day Red Cross Blood Drive

Where: Vogel Fieldhouse, 122 S. Garden St. New Ulm

When: 1-7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20; 1-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21; and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22. Blood drive also being held 1-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Orchid Inn in Sleepy Eye

For more information: 1-800-448-3543 or visit give

"They (the doctors) were very wonderful... and hopeful in being able to treat him," said Jodi. "He (Blake) took it really good. The only thing he was bummed about was that he was going to lose his hair."

Jodi was told by doctors, "don't give up" and to remain hopeful about his condition. The doctors would do what they could to treat him.

"It's life-changing to go through what we're going through," Jodi said. "The way I look at everything... you don't take a moment for granted."

Blake has since undergone a combination of treatments including chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplant (done with umbilical cord blood).

"He's been doing just great," said Jodi. "He's been so tough through this whole thing."

To help offset some of the effects of this aggressive treatment, Blake has needed numerous transfusions of blood.

Jodi recalled that it could be at least eight blood transfusions (in addition to platelets) that her son has received up until now.

"You could tell when he needed blood - we'd have to get his blood checked," said Jodi. "He'd be low on hemoglobin. He would have a transfusion... and he would have some color and feel so much better."

Jodi said that her son's cancer is in remission. He has returned to school at Washington Elementary School in New Ulm as a fourth grader.

Blake has been attending school half-days for the first time since early January.

"The school has been good with tutors ... so he's been able to stay with his class," said Jodi.

Jodi expressed gratitude to be able to receive blood transfusions like Blake has received throughout his treatment. They encourage everyone who is eligible to donate blood to make an appointment at the upcoming blood drive in New Ulm.

Report from the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross reports that as a result of the recent bad weather across the country - on the heels of the holiday season - the national blood supply has drastically decreased.

The type O negative blood supply has dropped to emergency levels, but all blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.

People who are healthy and eligible to donate are asked to help replenish the blood supply.

The American Red Cross is also anticipating a decrease in available donors during the flu season. Donating blood will not cause donors to be more susceptbile to the flu and their resistance to the flu will not be compromised simply by donating blood. Donors experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, lethargy, appetite loss, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea should not donate blood until 24-hours after their symptoms have subsided.

A blood donor card or driver's license, or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 18 years old (16 with parental permission in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors younger than 18 years also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.



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