Hendricken Hawks honor peers, save lives at blood drive

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WARWICK — When Nick Panarello and Jack Hendrickson walked into the blood drive held last Thursday at Bishop Hendricken High School, their eyes widened as they broke into smiles.

The two students were very proud of their fellow Hendricken Hawks.

Every cot set up in the McNally Gym was occupied, as several students sat patiently awaiting to donate to the worthwhile cause. The drive was dedicated to Panarello and Hendrickson and sponsored by the Rhode Island Blood Center and the school’s Health Club.

While the drive’s goal was to draw 75 pints during the day-long event, 85 students and faculty members donated blood.

In Rhode Island, students age 16 are now allowed to donate blood with parental consent.

In the fall of 2008, Panarello, a parishioner of St. Luke Church, Barrington, developed Aplastic Anemia, a blood disorder caused when bone marrow doesn’t replenish sufficient blood cells.

“When I came into school, people said I looked jaundiced,” the 16 year-old junior recalled. Panarello was diagnosed with Acute Fulminant Hepatic Failure and was hospitalized at Hasbro Children’s Hospital before he was transferred to Yale-New Haven Medical Center in Connecticut, one of the world’s leading centers for liver transplants and liver disease research. After two weeks of hospitalization and a grueling daily regimen of treatments and transfusions, Panarello returned to Rhode Island and gradually regained his strength.

“It got better and they sent me home,” he noted, adding that he is now playing baseball and has resumed a full schedule of activities. “I’m off all of the medications as of two months ago.”

Panarello recalled that he missed 55 days of school last year, but was still allowed to complete his sophomore year.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I couldn’t picture being in another school. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my teachers and friends.”

Hendrickson, 15, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Bristol, was diagnosed at age 2 with a form of Leukemia and was also treated at Hasbro. He has been in remission for seven years, and his doctors report that the chances of a reoccurrence are minimal.

“I remember some of the transfusions,” the sophomore said. “The nurses were nice, but it was tough on my parents.”

Once the blood drive was announced a few weeks ago, Panarello and Hendrickson visited classrooms during home room period to promote the event and both were encouraged by the support they received from their peers.

Sam Aalvik, a senior from Warwick, said that while he doesn’t know Panarello and Hendrickson personally, he believed that the blood drive was an important cause.

“I’m donating to save a life,” said the first time donor.

Paul Hynes, the school’s health educator, said he always emphasizes the importance of donating blood, and rewards upperclassmen who donate with extra credit. Underaged students whose parents donate also receive extra points.

Hynes said that Panarello and Hendrickson know from personal experience the difference a pint of blood can make when someone is very sick and needs a blood transfusion.

“They are young men who have benefited from it and are helping other people now as a result,” he said.

According to Frank Prosnitz, community development manager for the RIBC, many diocesan parishes and several schools host successful blood drives throughout the year. He added that the blood center needs to collect a minimum of 280 pints of blood per day to meet the local demand.

“They are extremely important to the overall blood supply,” Prosnitz emphasized. “When we donate a pint of blood, we have the potential of saving three lives.”