Teresa Garofalo (left) and Elizabeth Bales on graduation day. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Bales)

by Pete Mazzaccaro

It took more than a year after the death of Elizabeth Bales’ best friend, Dr. Teresa Garofalo, before she could really begin to talk about it.

“I’m still a wreck,” she said in a recent interview with the Local.

Bales met Garofalo at their interviews for admission to veterinary school in 1996. Garofolo had left runway modeling to be a veterinarian. She was, Bales said, a tremendously optimistic and generous person, full of energy and life.

“We became instant friends,” Bales said.

In August of 2010, Garofalo died of complications from acute myeloid leukemia, a bone marrow disorder in which abnormal white blood cells accumulate in the bone marrow and prevent the production of normal blood cells.

“Her treatment lasted a little more than three years,” Bales said. “I got to spend a lot of those days with her. A lot of those days were great fun. Others were very hard. I learned a lot about her and about the value of life.”

Bales, a Hill resident – same may remember her from five years she spent as a veterinarian at the Chestnut Hill Cat Clinic – joined the Chestnut Hill Community Association last year, she said, looking for a project that would bring the community together. The CHCA’s annual blood drive, which will take place on Saturday Feb. 11, seemed like a perfect opportunity to not only accomplish that goal, but also to honor her friend.

“In the course of her treatment, Garofalo needed 400 units of blood,” Bales said. “ When she was dying, friends asked her what we could do to honor her. She said the most important thing for her was to give blood back to the community.”

Bales’ goal is to try and raise 400 units of blood. It’s no small task. The annual blood drive typically nets between 45 and 65 units of blood on any given year. Bales, however, is confident that a real community effort could accomplish the goal.

“This is a really remarkable community when it comes together,” Bales said. “We’re all better served when we come together for a project like this that will benefit the community.”

Bales and her co-chair, Jay Valinis, have received a helping hand from a number of area businesses, including The Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, Bredenbeck’s Bakery, Baker Street and Top of the Hill Deli, which have all donated food for donors. Bales said a lot of effort from CHCA staff members Noreen Spota and Celeste Hardester was crucial in planning the event.

The blood drive will be held at Vare Field House on the campus of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee Street, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The drive will be conducted by the Miller Keystone Blood Center, an organization that keeps donated blood in the local Philadelphia area.

Anyone who wants to give blood should call to make an appointment. Appointments will help Miller Keystone establish staffing levels for the drive. Anyone interested can make an appointment now by calling Noreen at 215-248-8810 or emailing her at  noreen@chestnuthill.org

In addition to blood donations, Bales said that donors could register for bone marrow donations, a simple test that adds potential donors to a list.

“Just getting on the registry is not a commitment,” Bales said. “If it turns out you’re a match you will be called to let you know. It’s then that you can decide to commit or not. Marrow donation is not always scary, either. Sometimes it can be just like giving blood.”

Bales said bone marrow donations helped prolong Garofalo’s life for at least 18 months. It’s because of how difficult it is to find a marrow match that willing donors join the database.

Bales said the most important thing for anyone who is on the fence is to find out more by consulting Miller Keystone’s website, giveapint.org, to check your ability to give.

“People have lots of reasons for not giving,” Bales said. “That’s OK. I’ll be there all day. I’ll hold your hand.”