If Joe Weimer had not fallen and fractured his hip, there is a strong chance a rare form of leukemia in his bone marrow would not have been detected for many more months or even years.
On Dec. 17, he fell down some stairs and ended up in the hospital, where blood tests discovered he had acute promyelocytic leukemia. He and his husband, Dwayne Oblender Weimer, received the news on Christmas Day.
Joseph immediately started two rounds of chemotherapy treatment, and received 18 units of platelets and 30 units of red blood cells, first at Beebe Healthcare and then at ChristianaCare in Newark.
Idea for blood drive is born
Dwayne said their eyes were opened to the importance of having blood available for medical patients.
So when he saw an advertisement for a Blood Bank of Delmarva blood drive on Facebook in January, a lightbulb went off to have a blood drive in honor of Joe.
Dwayne connected the Blood Bank of Delmarva's Ralph Groves to discuss his idea.
“Ralph said we want to at least have 30 people to make it beneficial. I said we’re going to get more than 30,” Dwayne said. “I mean, 30 is great but 60 is better. I’m not a minimalist. I go overboard with pretty much everything I do.”
Dwayne set the wheels in motion, working with the Blood Bank and Schell Brothers Vice President Dan Matta. Joe is a quality home inspector for Schell Brothers, which sponsored the blood drive and provided use of the company's gymnasium/fitness center in Rehoboth Beach for the March 2 event.
Recovery from COVID-19
It's been a tough time for the Lewes couple over the past five months. Both Joe and Dwayne contracted COVID-19 in October. “We were getting better, but we had a little bit of setback. Joe passed out because of COVID and fell down the stairs and fractured his left hip. He was taken to the hospital that Saturday. They were not able to do surgery right away because of concerns with his blood work and a high fever,” Dwayne said.
Joe was transferred from Beebe to ChristianaCare where his hematology team did a bone marrow biopsy on Christmas Eve. By Christmas morning, Joe was diagnosed with APL.
They gave him platelet and blood transfusions immediately so he could be strong enough for chemotherapy, Dwayne said.
“His doctors say he has a 90 percent success rate of full recovery because it was caught very early, and he is looking forward to getting back to work,” Dwayne said. “I tell him this is a marathon and not a sprint.”
Joe was able to go home a month later. However, in February, he began another 28-day regimen of chemotherapy.
“It’s not unforeseen that he could need more platelets or more blood, depending on what his levels are,” Dwayne said. “If I see there is a need, I jump right in.”
Dwayne said someone needs blood every two seconds, and that moment came for Joe during the holidays. A single blood donation can help three people. During the March 2 drive, some people gave double donations to help six people.
In all, 69 people donated whole blood and 12 donated double red blood cells, including many Schell Brothers employees and customers.
Dwayne decided to hold a free raffle with prizes donated by the local business community and even from Pennsylvania, where the couple has ties as well. A group drove from the Lancaster area to donate blood.
“I heard each business say they want to support the local people who support us. This will be our fourth year being here, and the community is amazing. The outpouring of support has been phenomenal,” said Dwayne.
For more information, go to delmarvablood.org.