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Menk gives blood mindful of donors who helped wife

Harlen Menk knows firsthand the importance of blood donations. Menk’s late wife, Georgia, was receiving blood transfusions almost weekly at one point while a patient with a rare disease in the same family as leukemia. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

Harlen Menk holds fond memories of his late wife, Georgia.

Menk also remembers the people who came forward to help his mate when she was a patient with Myelofibrosis, an extremely rare disease in the same family as leukemia. Her condition left her needing blood transfusions almost weekly at one point, he said Thursday.

Those blood donors meant a lot because his spouse would immediately feel better once she got a transfusion, though that good feeling would invariably fade again, he said. He’s especially grateful to them and shows it by donating blood himself whenever possible during the American Red Cross Bloodmobile’s local visits. Another such visit is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 26, from noon to 6 p.m. at Zion Covenant Church in Ellsworth.

“It’s a way to pay back all of the many ways Georgia was helped,” he said, joking his own blood type reminds him of his grade point average when he was still in school: B-plus.

Despite the seriousness of her disease, Menk said he, their relatives and the many friends she’d made were hopeful after she was diagnosed with it in 2004. He recalled being told it would be terminal for her without a successful transplant. Yet, one was eventually found and she might have lived if not for a complication.

The disease manifests itself in bone marrow, he explained. It involves not producing healthy red blood cells.

“She’d feel rundown at night, then in the morning be okay again,” he said of what became a difficult cycle, complete with a fever and cold-or-flu-like symptoms.

Ultimately, doctors performed a red blood count on her and found what she was experiencing had morphed into the disease, he said. As the frequency of transfusions kept increasing, they advised her transplanting stem cells would have to happen soon.

With a match finally located, the patient began chemotherapy in preparation in June of 2008, her husband said. Unfortunately, when that transplant occurred, her immunity was down and she succumbed to an infection. He described it as a “super bug”—MRSA.

Georgia Menk died five years ago June 30 at age 52.

For more please read the August 14 print version of the Herald. 

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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