Along with hundreds of others, Don Eck and his family will ride next Sunday, Sept. 29, in Highland Park in Mortenson Construction’s Blood, Sweat & Tears Charity Bike Ride to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). For the second straight year, Don, 71, of Westchester, will ride to celebrate his survival of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an often lethal form of blood cancer. In between last year’s Blood, Sweat & Tears event and this year, Don endured numerous complications from the disease, but he continues to regain his strength and stamina.
At the 2013 event, Don will ride alongside his wife and be honored as an inspiration to all who participate to help people with blood cancers. All proceeds from the ride benefit LLS, which is the leading national organization dedicated to blood cancer research, as well as free blood cancer information, education and patient support. After registering, riders collect additional funds for LLS via online fundraising pages. Don was diagnosed with leukemia in late 2011. Persistent knee pain had grown more severe, so Don visited a series of specialists to discern the root of the pain. Answers proved difficult, but eventually, a rheumatologist conducted routine blood tests. When the test came back with Don’s blood count way off, he was directed to a hematologist, who diagnosed Don with AML and directed him to begin treatment immediately. During chemotherapy treatment at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, Don experienced few complications, except for extreme exhaustion a few weeks in.
“I would walk about 90 feet in the hall and afterwards be ready for bed,” Don said.
On April 16, 2012, Don received a stem cell transplant, which went seamlessly. Don began to regain strength over the next eight months, and rode in the Blood, Sweat & Tears Charity Bike Ride last September with Team Cell Cyclers and their team captain, Missy Blundell. However, Don’s body developed graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in December 2012 as his body fought against the transplant. He endured separate weeks-long stays in the hospital to stabilize his condition, and then to regain his strength with physical and occupational therapy. He came home for good in March 2013 and is very thankful to his doctors, his family (especially his wife, Marie) and friends for the chance to live another day.
“We are so appreciative to Don for his willingness to share the experience of leukemia,” said LLS executive director Pam Swenk. “Success stories like his show how funds raised for LLS at events like the Blood, Sweat & Tears Charity Bike Ride are helping to save lives today, not someday.”
Mortenson Construction’s Blood, Sweat & Tears Charity Bike Ride begins at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29, at Highland Park High School. Distance options include 20, 45, 62 and 100 miles, or the 5-mile Family Fun Ride. Riders of all ages and skill levels are welcome. The course winds through flat and low-traffic roads in the scenic North Shore. Mortenson Construction is the presenting sponsor of the event, and Pioneer Press is the media sponsor.
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