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DC teen with aplastic anemia receives achievement award
June 13, 2016

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – Resilience.

That’s one of the qualities Minnesota Alliance With Youth looked at when selecting this year’s Red Wagon Award winners – a quality that describes 18-year-old Taylor Tenhoff quite well.

Taylor, the son of Russ and Monica Tenhoff of Cokato, is one of three individuals in the state to receive the award, which honors youth who have overcome obstacles to achieve academic gains, give back to their community, and become leaders among their peers.

“I was very happy to have been awarded it,” Taylor said.

The obstacles he’s had to overcome started in March 2008, when he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, an auto-immune disorder that attacks bone marrow.

Taylor’s older sister, Katie (Tenhoff) Richter donated bone marrow to him later that year, only to have it fail in 2010. She donated again in 2011, and this time, the procedure was successful.

“With both transplants, I had to have chemotherapy,” Taylor said, adding that the dosage is stronger than what is typically used to treat cancer. The goal of treatment is to eradicate as much existing marrow as possible to make room for new, healthy marrow.

According to an Enterprise Dispatch article from 2010, Taylor could have died without a bone marrow transplant. And even with a perfect donor match from Katie, there was still only a 50- to 70-percent chance of survival. (Prior to the transplant, Taylor lived off other people’s blood for four months because he didn’t have marrow to make his own.)

For the first 100 days after his surgeries, Taylor had to live in an apartment within 15 minutes of the hospital, in case he got sick or had complications.

After the second transplant, Taylor became infected with the Epstein-Barr Virus, and also contracted a staph and strep infection in his blood. His mother remembered that he had a fever during this time, and his temperature got as high as 106 degrees F.

Fighting for his future

Taylor tried to stay on top of his education during this ordeal, but it was tough.

“They had a teacher come in and help with some schooling, but I wasn’t really feeling good enough to do much school work,” he said.

He missed half of seventh grade and most of eighth grade, putting him behind when he returned to Dassel-Cokato School District as a freshman.

“When I got back, it was a challenge,” he said.

According to a press release about the Red Wagon Award, Taylor fought to become re-engaged in school, and brought his grade point average (GPA) up to 3.5.

He graduated with the rest of his class June 5, and plans to attend the Art Institute of Minneapolis in July for a degree in media arts and animation.

Taylor loves to draw in his free time, and has submitted artwork to county fairs, the National Junior Duck Stamp contest, and the Regional 2AA Visual Arts Festival. This spring, he was recognized as Dassel-Cokato High School’s Senior Artist of the Year.

In addition to his success in school, Taylor has been an active member in the Knapp Busy Bees 4-H Club, completing projects in art, health, and safety.

“I’ve been in it as long as I can remember, and I was the club president for quite a while,” he said.

Taylor has helped his family organize and participate in a bone marrow registry drive for Be The Match, and is an advocate for blood donation. He is also a member of the Kids Council (a division of Child Family Life at the University of Minnesota Masonic Hospital), where he helps plan activities for hospital pediatric patients.

Taylor and the other Red Wagon Award winners will each receive a $500 scholarship at a celebration fundraiser Thursday, June 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Macalester College.

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