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Claremont community shows support to local family

About 23 units of blood were collected Wednesday at a last-minute drive for longtime resident Erin Sweeney Bendiner, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia last February. The support has shown the Bendiner and Sweeney families that being a part of the Claremont family runs just as thick as blood.

“It’s giving my wife a chance on life,” said Jon Bendiner, Ms. Bendiner’s husband. “It’s such an incredible gift the community is giving to us.”

The City of Hope’s bloodmobile set to work, supplied with 5 beds and 2 screening areas. An estimated 29 people, including Ms. Bendiner’s mother Joan Sweeney, showed up to donate.

Ms. Bendiner’s 18 month-old son Elliott happily tottered around the site, pointing at cars and making friends with drive participants. Mr. Bendiner stood alongside his son, encouraging anyone he could to take part in the donation

“It’s incredible how easy it is to save a life,” he said. “I’m so happy to generate more blood for the City of Hope and give back.”

Ms. Bendiner was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive cancer that attacks the body’s white blood cells. The Bendiners took action immediately, moving from their home in Virginia to be with family in Claremont.  Ms. Bendiner started treatments at the City of Hope, one of the nation’s leading institutions in the fight against cancer.

“Everything was upside down, down the rabbit hole,” Mr. Bendiner said. “All we could do was focus on moving forward to keep [Elliott’s] mom alive.”

After receiving chemotherapy, Ms. Bendiner was set to receive a bone marrow transplant last Thursday in an attempt to reestablish a healthy blood supply. Because the transplant starts her blood production from scratch, donor supplies are needed, said Ms. Bendiner Woldemar, Ms. Bendiner’s sister-in-law.

“She needs an incredible amount of blood,” she said. “The exact amount depends on how the transplant goes.

With just five days to the surgery, Ms. Bendiner Woldemar took action for her sister-in-law. From her home in Santa Cruz, the former Claremont business owner relied on her city contacts and social networking skills to help save her family.

“Claremont is such an amazing community, everyone has helped out so much,” Ms. Bendiner Woldemar said. “There was a lot of last minute scrambling, but everyone did what they could to make it happen.”

With the help of City of Hope’s bloodmobile and a Facebook event, word on the event spread quickly.

“I can't express how much this means to us. More than the blood, it’s the kindness and support that sustains us,” he said in a post. “Well... maybe not more than the blood, but its a huge piece.”

A 2nd blood drive for Ms. Bendiner will take place on Monday at Memorial Park’s Summer Concert Series. The City of Hope bloodmobile will be accepting donations from 1:30 to 7 p.m. All donors will receive 2 free wine tastings at Wine Styles on any Friday or Saturday with proof of donation via owner Elie Joseph Jr.

For more information, contact Naomi.devi@gmail.com

–Beth Hartnett

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