Residents young and old have rallied behind a local 15-year-old girl by donating money and blood toward her battle against leukemia.

Korrine Ellis, a student and cheerleader at Blacklick Valley High School, was diagnosed with the illness in the fall, said Brooke Litzinger, her longtime friend and classmate.

Litzinger and another friend, Chantara Kubat, also cheerleaders, planned a fund-raising dance at the high school to assist Korrine’s family with mounting medical bills and traveling expenses back and forth to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“We wanted to do something to help Korrine,” Brooke said. “We’ve been friends all our lives.”

The two friends weren’t the only ones who wanted to help. It seems the entire Nanty Glo community has contributed.

“We stick together for our own,” said William Hill, Korrine’s grandfather. “It shows what kind of town Nanty Glo is.”

Hill pointed to a blood drive held at the Nanty Glo fire hall just before Christmas that netted 157 registered donors and more than 400 blood products – whole blood, platelets and plasma.

“The blood drive was very successful,” Hill said. “The blood-bank volunteers had to stay an extra two or three hours, and they had 15 beds going constantly.”

John Pepper, spokesman for Central Blood Bank of Pittsburgh, described the turnout as “phenomenal.”

Pepper said Korrine and her family are part of a program called “Replenish the Need,” which asks blood-donor recipients to help the blood bank replenish what they have used and will continue to use.

“What drives people to donate blood is the relationship to the person who needs blood,” Pepper said. “Korrine allowed us to use her name on a blood drive, and that’s how all of this happened. It was very successful.”

Another plus is that a number of donors opted to be tested for bone-marrow compatibility for Korrine and other patients who, like her, may be facing a bone-marrow transplant.

Central Blood Bank is a nonprofit organization founded in 1951 by a group of Pittsburgh physicians. It collects and tests more than 160,000 donations annually, and distributes more than 400,000 blood products every year to more than 40 hospitals in western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and Ohio.

“We’re similar to the American Red Cross, except that they are in Johnstown, and we are in Pittsburgh,” Pepper said.

“There are areas that CBB manages, and areas that ARC manages.”

He said the blood drive was sponsored by Central Blood Bank in Nanty Glo only because the Ellis family requested it.

“Korrine and her family asked us to help them with this blood drive, and that’s why we were there,” Pepper said. “We do not have blood drives in Johnstown unless we are asked.

“The important thing is to donate blood, no matter if it is the Red Cross or CBB,” he said.

“It always benefits the community to donate blood.”

A pancake breakfast was held in conjunction with the blood drive at the high school. Together with a bake sale and 50/50 drawing, the day’s efforts netted more than $4,500 for the Ellis family.

Brooke and her friends raised more than $600 on Dec. 22, the last day of school before Christmas vacation.

“We talked to our principal, and he let us pick the date for the dance,” Brooke said.

The dance was originally slated to be held the week before, but a weather-related school closing turned the out-of-school event into an in-school party.

Students were asked to donate a minimum of $1 to attend the dance. Anyone not in a dancing mood could opt to watch a movie in the school auditorium instead. Local disc jockey Frank Reese of Nanty Glo donated DJ services.

“We raised $536 at the dance, and more than $100 from soda sales,” Brooke said. “A lot of kids donated a lot more than $1.”

Korrine, an all-star cheerleader at Turner’s Gym, 632 Railroad St. in Johnstown, was a member of the squad that earned a national cheerleading championship in Orlando, Fla., in the spring.

She was named most valuable player in the Forest Hills softball league during the summer, and was expected to be the starting pitcher for Blacklick Valley High School in the spring.

Turner’s is planning a blood drive for Korrine in February through Central Blood Bank.



Julie Benamati can be reached at 532-5050 or jbenamati@tribdem.com

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