Community comes together to support teen with Leukemia
Benefit hockey game nets $7,300
By Julie Snyder
Posted June 25, 2014
HARRISON TOWNSHIP — The Korpal family of Harrison Township has been through hell and back more than once.
And they’re planning yet another comeback.
In early May, Kristine and Jim Korpal’s 17-year-old son Sean, an athletic junior at L’Anse Creuse High School, began feeling ill. Kristine, a nurse, said Sean was experiencing body aches off and on, and would become feverish: symptoms that were controlled with over-the-counter medications.
“He had a lot of tests and was run down — sleeping only about three hours a night,” Kristine said. “(The symptoms) went away with Tylenol, so we thought he had a virus.”
Within a couple of days, Sean developed a nagging cough that was temporarily controlled with a suppressant, though as the days passed, he developed more and more suspicious symptoms such as uncontrollable bleeding, specifically hours-long nose bleeds, until in mid-May he began feeling dizzy and was having difficulty breathing.
“He was all pale and pasty. He looked terrible,” Kristine said.
Sean was taken to Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, where tests revealed his hemoglobin level was at a critical low and his platelets were wiped out, which meant there was a 50 percent chance that it was a virus and a 50 percent chance that it was cancer. Sean was transported by ambulance to Beaumont in Royal Oak where blood tests confirmed on May 18 that it was Leukemia.
“We were praying it was the ‘good’ Leukemia; the most curable one,” Kristine said.
A bone marrow biopsy on May 19 confirmed that Sean had Pre B ALL Leukemia, the most curable form of Leukemia with an 85 percent survival rate.
“With Pre B ALL Leukemia (you) can be in and out of the hospital for chemo treatment. The other forms of Leukemia, you can be in the hospital for up to eight months and undergo bone marrow transplants,” Kristine said.
Since then, Sean has been able to stay at home and finished up the school year, traveling to Royal Oak for monthly chemo treatments, but able to head back home again.
Jim Korpal said there were just a couple of stints when Sean had to stay in the hospital several nights, but that was in the early stages. Those stays resulted in missed works days and mounting medical bills.
But the family isn’t struggling thanks to friends, family, co-workers and members of the L’Anse Creuse High School Alumni hockey team.
Sean is goalie and captain of his high school’s hockey team, and even played on the same team as his older brother Ryan.
When members of the alumni team learned about Sean, they formed Team Tutu and, in a benefit game in Sean’s honor at the Mount Clemens Ice Arena on June 6, eventually raised $7,300 for the Korpal family.
One of the organizers of the game, Hanna Clinard, who works in the Consultant Services Department for the Macomb Intermediate School District, said Team Tutu was formed in May as a general fundraiser, the benefactor had yet to be identified.
“The team agreed that if we could raise at least $1,000, they would all play one game wearing tutus,” Clinard had said. Then they learned about Sean.
She said they learned about the annual insurances costs, the costs incurred by driving 2-3 times a week to Royal Oak, and the time both Kristine and Jim have taken off from work to be with their son.
Kristine said $3,000 of the money raised from the game will go to Children’s Health Services Insurance. Other fundraisers have been held at a restaurant near Jim Korpal’s employer in Chesterfield Township, there was a Faces of Hope Walk held at Stoney Creek Metropark recently, and teachers at L’Anse Creuse High School contributed funds to purchase gift cards for the family to local restaurants.
“We are so grateful to everyone,” said Kristine. “I get choked up whenever I think about it. And it has helped Sean because he had said, ‘How can I be down when there are so many people supporting me and my family.’ He’s really taken the high road.”
Kristine said she and Jim, who have been married for 21 years, aren’t unfamiliar with dire times. Kristine is a breast cancer survivor, in remission for five years now, and their daughter, Lauren, 15, once suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“Through it all, we’ve stayed strong,” Kristine said. “We’re tough. We’re the Korpal 5.”
After press time, the Korpals were anticipating news of whether or not Sean’s cancer was in remission.
For more information or to help, go to www.teamtutu.weebly.com and there is a “BigSeanK Foundation” set up at Central Macomb Credit Union on Gratiot Avenue in Clinton Township.
About the author
Staff Writer Julie Snyder covers Harrison Township, Mount Clemens, Macomb County, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, and Mount Clemens Community Schools for the Journal. She has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2003, and attended the University of Toledo with degrees in journalism and photography. Julie has received several awards for her work in Arizona and Washington, including AP awards in Arizona for breaking news reporting and feature writing.
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