THE MOVIE THAT CAN SAVE A LIFE
Ken Raimondi has a story he wants to tell. It’s one of hope and despair, empathy and apathy, life and death. That’s a pretty tall order to fill in just a 20-minute film, but Ken’s sure he can do it – if you help.
Ken’s using a Kickstarter campaign to make his film, “Her Unlikely Kin.” It’s the story of teen-ager Sarah Rassi who desperately needs a bone marrow transplant. There’s only one donor who can help her – Peyton Sinclair. As if this scenario isn’t dramatic enough, add to that the fact that Sarah’s Muslim and Peyton’s a veteran with PTSD.
To give you an idea of why this story is so important to Ken, perhaps it’s best to tell you Ken’s own journey. Ken was an Air Force technical sergeant when I started working with him at Air Force Recruiting Service in 2009. He had a reputation as a dependable guy you could count on to not only get things done but done well.
The Stratford, Connecticut, native graduated with top honors from every military course or training program he attended. His work was consistently recognized at the highest Air Force levels, in particular, an ambitious video blog called “30 Days Through Afghanistan” which he accomplished while he was deployed.
|Ken Raimondi talks about "Her Unlikely Kin."|
Life was good for Ken, his wife, Jackie, and their two young sons. But in the summer of 2011, Ken noticed he was getting tired … a lot. This was surprising since he was always physically fit, but he just chalked it up to being a dad.
Then he and Jackie went to a concert and Ken felt like his legs were encased in cement. Even then, he didn’t want to think that anything serious was going on, but the next morning when he woke up he had red dots on both legs from his feet to his knees. He went to his primary care physician and they did bloodwork. A normal platelet count is 150,000 to 300,000. Ken’s was 16,000.
Still unsure of what was wrong and not realizing just how serious his condition was, Ken and Jackie went out with friends for dinner a few days later. Ken bumped into a table with his leg – it immediately ballooned up, and it was back to the hospital.
His blood counts crashed and he received numerous blood and platelet transfusions. With his resistance so low, he got sick on top of his illness.
“Anything can get you sick when your white blood levels are so low,” he said.
As he was recovering his doctor came to see him. The diagnosis: aplastic anemia.
One of the doctor’s first questions was if Ken had any full brothers or sisters. In cases like this, a bone marrow transplant from a full sibling is the best chance of recovery. Unfortunately, Ken only has a half brother and two half sisters, so that was out.
The next treatment on the protocol was ATG – anti-thymocyte globulin – an antibody derived from horses. It wipes out your immune system in the hopes it will grow back healthy, and in about 50 percent of the cases it does just that. But Ken’s numbers never went up enough. After six months his platelets increased to only 20,000. He was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
“I wanted a bone marrow transplant,” Ken said. “I had no interest in slugging it out, feeling like crap and not doing stuff with my kids. I wanted a chance at a cure.”
This time, even though the odds were great they ended up being in Ken’s favor and he found a donor. The bone marrow transplant took place on March 23, 2012 – now known as Ken’s new birthday.
Before the big day, Ken decided he wanted to tell his story. He would do a blog, both writing and posting videos, to let people know how important it was to be a donor.
“Looking back it was therapeutic,” Ken said. “I kept the blog throughout the whole process. Jackie updated it when I wasn't feeling well.”
For Ken, it wasn’t just the transplant itself that changed his life, it was the fact that someone he didn’t even know – “a stranger who matched me on a molecular level” – donated the life-saving bone marrow.
Even though Ken fully recovered after the transplant, his health history was now a liability to his Air Force career. So after 13 years of service, Ken was medically retired in September 2013. He thought about what he would do as he got ready to make the transition to civilian life, and he decided to take advantage of his education benefits. He enrolled at the Vermont College of FineArts in their Master of Fine Arts program. He began the two-year program in October 2013, and visits the school for a week during each six-month semester.
When he was exploring ideas for his thesis film, he soon realized some of them were too ambitious. He wanted to do a documentary and follow a patient and a donor throughout the process, but the coordination and the legalities made it nearly impossible at this time. He didn’t want to do the story on himself. There were already films on bone marrow recipients, and they’re done after the fact.
Ken felt the story that needed to be told was that of the donor. Fifty percent of the people contacted through the Bone Marrow Registry don’t follow through with the donation. Imagine finding that one hope – the one chance for life – and then they changed their mind.
That’s what happened to a young girl named Lily here in San Antonio. She had one match and they said no. She died without the transplant.
“I think of her and there’s no difference between her and me, except that Cameron said ‘yes’ and didn’t back out,” Ken said.
Through “Her Unlikely Kin,” Ken hopes there will be more donors like his and less of the ones who change their mind. By clearing up misconceptions, he hopes to show that the process isn't as scary as people think and the reward has no substitute. You can help – by donating to his Kickstarter campaign you can make that difference. The campaign started Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. His goal is $25,000. If you’re not familiar with how Kickstarter works, you pledge an amount but if the goal is not reached you won’t get charged. That way you’re guaranteed not to lose your investment.
Most of the money will go to the actors and crew. The film is Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) approved and will have both union and non-union performers.
“I did that so I can pull from the highest quality actors. I didn’t want to limit myself by not doing that. Equipment-wise I’m going to rent a Zeiss lens, and I’m using my Sony FS-100. Yes, the camera’s a little old but I know I can make a beautiful image with it. The camera is just a tool,” Ken said.
He’s already done a casting call, and auditions will be in November. Filming begins in January in San Antonio. The final film should hit the festival circuit in October 2015.
To learn more about the film, Ken’s story and how you can help, please visit the Kickstarter website. And as you’re reading, think of Ken’s plea:
“If people only realized what giving to another human being could do.”