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Triplet returns after months away for marrow transplant

It was a beautiful day to fly. There was scarcely a cloud in the sky Tuesday all the way from Cincinnati to Buffalo as Wings Flight of Hope volunteer pilot Joe DeMarco brought Dan and Kari Palermo back home in his single-engine Cirrus with their 2-year-old daughter, Kira.

For Kira, this would be her first time back in Wheatfield since the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That's when her parents took her to Cincinnati Children's Hospital for a bone marrow transplant, which doctors hoped would cure a rare blood-platelet syndrome.

The disorder was discovered not long after Kira was born in February 2010, one of a set of triplets, all of whom weighed about a pound. She and her sisters, Annalise and Sarah, received blood transfusions during their first weeks of life in Women & Children's Hospital.

While her sisters eventually stopped getting transfusions, Kira continued to need them.

"She had to have platelet transfusions every couple days," Dan Palermo said Tuesday. "It was good that she was in the hospital and had tests every couple days."

They were the first children for Dan, a project engineer at Olin Chemical in Niagara Falls, and Kari, a reading specialist in the Tonawanda City School District. Kira was the last of the triplets to come home -- nearly three months after she was born -- and she was back in the intensive care unit at Women & Children's Hospital that summer after she developed an infection. She was there for a month.

"That's when we started really looking for a reason why she was not making platelets," her father said. "At first, we didn't find out. It took us probably until next April or May. She was getting more transfusions, one a week, and in April she started to level off, but she leveled off very low."

Although Kira was otherwise healthy, the shortage of platelets made her susceptible to bleeding, and she was back in Women & Children's Hospital last summer for surgery to correct bleeding in her brain. This time she was in the intensive care unit for three weeks.

After that, the Palermos sought information on Kira's condition from doctors across the nation. A doctor in Cleveland examined her platelets under a microscope, saw crystalline occlusions and came up with a diagnosis that explained why the platelets didn't behave like they should.

It was decided that Kira should have a bone marrow transplant, and Cincinnati was chosen because it's one of the few places that performs them on patients who do not have cancer. Fortunately, sisters Annalise and Sarah were compatible as donors.

Not long after Kira was checked in for what promised to be a long stay in the hospital in Cincinnati and Kari found a place to stay in the Ronald McDonald House across the street from the hospital, the Palermos began to look for better ways to get there and back.

"It's a seven-hour drive," Dan Palermo said. "For my wife and I to switch out, back and forth, was 28 hours total."

Kari's mother, Nanci Swalm, read in The Buffalo News about DeMarco and his flights of mercy for patients and families, and told her daughter about it.

"More than the money, it saved the time," Dan Palermo said. "The flight is about two hours or so. The longest was 3 1/2 hours with a head wind. It's a really great experience. You're right next to the pilot."

In addition to being grateful to Wings Flight of Hope and Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati, the Palermos are thankful that they have plenty of family in the area -- their parents and aunts and uncles -- who have helped look after Sarah and Annalise.

"It's been tough for them, somewhat," Dan Palermo said. "We've tried to keep things as normal as possible. Now I'm hoping that [Kira] is going to get used to us again. We're just happy to be home."

While Kira resumes activities like walking that were interrupted by her hospital stay, her parents and physicians will be watching to see how well she recovers.

"In December, a year after the transplant, if all is going well, they'll consider her cured," Dan Palermo said.

email: danderson@buffnews.com