Peoria Enrollment Counselor, a Leukemia Survivor, Becomes Blood-Drive Ambassador
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Darryl Webb
The first sign, on her wedding day, seemed innocent enough.
Kate Condie-Clarke was shaving her legs for her big day and noticed the little red dots on her skin. More embarrassed by the blotches than anything else, she didn’t think much of it.
Then, on her honeymoon in Sedona, the slightest tap on her legs resulted in nasty bruises. Walking up a flight of stairs also became a chore.
Still, Condie-Clarke was not one to rush to the doctor every time an ailment jumped up and bit her.
“I just kind of thought I had a weird strain of the flu,” said Condie-Clarke, an enrollment counselor at GCU’s Peoria offices. “I don’t like going to the ER or the doctors. They just go, ‘Oh, we don’t know what it is. Call us when it gets worse.’ So I just wait until it gets worse before I go in.”
But it did get worse. Much worse.
About a month later, while friends were over celebrating her husband Ryan’s birthday, Condie-Clarke was sitting on the couch when she looked up at the ceiling.
“The popcorn ceiling was full of rainbow colors and started to move,” she said. “Then I looked at the carpet, and the carpet was full of rainbow colors and started to move. I went, ‘OK, that’s not good.’”
The next day, a Monday, she went to the doctor and was given antibiotics for a possible infection and told to go home and rest until the blood tests came back.
But the results didn’t come. By Wednesday, Condie-Clarke could barely breathe and her body was bruising like crazy. She called and left a message with her doctor.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel like I’m dying.’”
The lab report, Condie-Clarke said, got misplaced under a stack of papers, and “when they finally read my lab report, they were like, ‘Oh my goodness, she is dying.’
“The doctor called me and said, ‘Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. You need to go to my friend who is an oncologist. I have already made an appointment for you.
“You have leukemia.’”
That was eight years ago, when she was 24. At the time, Condie-Clarke — now a testimonial speaker for United Blood Services — said the only thing she knew about leukemia was that it was some kind of blood disorder “and everybody I knew that had either leukemia or lymphoma had all passed on.”
She was nearly among that group.
At the oncologist’s office, blood tests showed that her white-blood cell count was off the charts and her platelets, which help with clotting, were extremely low. “The average sample of platelets per unit for a person is a quarter of a million — I had eight,” Condie-Clarke said.
The oncologist sent her to the emergency room immediately for a blood transfusion, telling her, “If you don’t get this blood in you by the end of the day, you’re probably going to die,” Condie-Clarke said.
The transfusion helped, but her condition was exacerbated by a genetic disorder called protein S deficiency (which causes abnormal blood clots). That, combined with the leukemia, caused disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) — in which excessive bleeding occurs and clots can injure vital organs, causing anemia or death.
“Anyone that knows medical stuff knows that DIC is serious,” Condie-Clarke said. “Most of the nurses in the hospital call it ‘Death Is Coming.’”
In fact, Condie-Clarke said, “There were several times that night where my family was called in to come and say goodbye to me. They had to start making funeral arrangements.”
But the blood transfusions got her through that night — and many more nights as she went through 24 units of blood in her first 21 days at the hospital.
Diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, Condie-Clarke spent six weeks in the hospital and then underwent chemotherapy for six months. Each round of chemotherapy was preceded by more blood transfusions.
“I begged the nurses for (blood),” Condie-Clarke said. “They’d come into my room and I’d be like, ‘Can I have some more blood?’ It was the only thing that made me feel better. … The nurses called me the ‘Vampirate.’ I had double vision, so I wore an eye patch to correct that. And I wore a bandana to cover my bald head. So I looked like a pirate. But I was pale and I craved blood. So I was part vampire, part pirate.”
The chemo worked its magic, and there have been no signs of cancer in the eight years since.
“They have actually used the word ‘cured’ with me because it’s been over five years since my last chemo,” Condie-Clarke said. “I threw myself a huge party. We called it the ‘Katie’s not dead party.’”
Condie-Clarke can make light of the situation now, but she knows the reason she’s still here, smiling, laughing and sharing the love of her family, is the blood transfusions that kept her going. It’s why she spends her time serving as a speaker for United Blood Services.
“I go to schools and businesses and just kind of tell people why donating blood is important … because you can be on your wedding day and need 24 pints of blood,” Condie-Clarke said.
“Every time I see someone that’s wearing a T-shirt or wearing a sticker that says they donated blood, I shake their hand and look them in the eye and thank them for saving my life. I’ll never know specifically whose blood saved my life because it’s all anonymous, so as far as I’m concerned every blood donor saved my life.”
Today, Condie-Clarke is starting a new journey. Her husband left three years ago, and they are in the final stages of a divorce. She began working for GCU last September.
“I call myself an educational concierge. If students have any questions or problems throughout their entire time here, they can give me a call and I’ll find answers for them. Anything they have issues with, whether it’s tech support or issues with their books or professors or just if they need someone to encourage them to keep going, I’m there. I’m their cheerleader.”
As her family was for her.
“It makes me appreciate my family so much more,” Condie-Clarke said of her ordeal. “I always thought I was just the bratty kid sister. To see how much they all loved and cared for me, it just blew me away.
“I’m enjoying the adventure I’m on right now and kind of reinventing myself and rediscovering how strong I am. … The Lord’s testing me. He’s preparing me for something, so I’m a little scared what He has going on that He needs me to be strong enough to go through cancer and a divorce. But whatever it is, I’m ready to take it on.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].