Blood donors can help ‘Barrett the Brave’ and other children with cancer
“Today my baby’s health was improved because someone gave blood,” wrote Abby Gregory on June 4 in his CaringBridge journal when Barrett received his first transfusion. This was a couple months after she found “a lump the size of a grape” in her son Barrett’s cheek this spring.
The lump – in a muscle – is a rare and serious form of pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Barrett – not yet two years old when diagnosed – started several weeks later on a brutal treatment plan of chemotherapy, radiation, and possibly surgery, over a 12-to 14-month period.
“We’re fighting for his life, which is still hard for me to wrap my head around,” says Abby.
Part of this fight for a boy “who loves trucks, shovels and his mom and dad” has involved multiple, hours-long transfusions of red blood cells and platelets during a time of shortages across the country. Both are often critical for giving lifesaving strength and time to patients enduring aggressive treatments against cancer.
Barrett’s first transfusion was the day before his second birthday – when he was in the hospital with his platelets and red blood cell counts too low. “It was overall fairly simple but, for some reason felt extra scary to us. But I guess all of this is scary,” says Abby.
In October, Barret completed 28 proton radiation treatments and during this time he’s needed more lifesaving transfusions. He’s a brave boy experiencing great physical suffering, but “he’s keeping us smiling even through the pain,” says Abby.
Barrett will need more transfusions to keep his red blood cell count high enough for more chemotherapy treatments during the coming months.
Grateful for blood and platelet donors, Barrett’s mom encourages people to donate or host a blood drive. Witnessing her son’s bravery, Abby asks for others to donate blood or platelets to help “kick cancer’s butt.”
“It was always on my ‘bucket list’ to make a donation.”
The different responses given by American Red Cross blood donors show there’s no uniform reason that sparks their first donation. Personally, I had not found my reason until several weeks ago. Prior to that, the only time blood donations had been brought up in my life was by a friend who, despite nearly passing out at the mention of needles, would be back at a donation center every couple of months. I would always ask why she would put herself in that situation, and her answer would always be similar to that of other donors – she wanted to help.
Only a couple of hours after scheduling my donation time, I was answering questions at the center and beginning the donation process. I spent the ten minutes it took to fill the bag by looking around the room. All of the Red Cross members working the drive as well as the donors were radiating positivity, despite the needles in their arms, and I found that I, too, could only think of the overwhelming good that everyone’s presence in the room was doing. No matter each person’s unique background or reason for being there, each of us was going to save lives.
The couple hours that had passed from deciding to schedule my appointment to leaving the donation center had flown by, but had filled me with a new understanding of the simple answers people give when asked why they donated blood. There did not have to be one significantly motivating event that got the donors there. They had just wanted to help.
“No matter each person’s unique background or reason for being there, each of us was going to save lives.”
If there could be one reason to broadly represent all of the donors who have shared why they donate, this would be it. I had always understood the basis of this when people said it, but the realization of what blood donations do for real people – not to mention the impact on the families and friends of the recipients – made the statement “wanting to help” much bigger.
Due to the severe blood shortage, people all over the country have had to wait to receive blood transfusions or have not received them at all. Not receiving the proper blood transfusions takes away significant parts of people’s lives, but each donor’s decision to donate gives the opportunity to change that for at least one person. There’s no reason too small to motivate this.
Story by Julia Clingen – American Red Cross Volunteer
Sunday, June 6, is National Cancer Survivors Day, and we’re celebrating Myel. In August 2016, Myel received an unexpected and life-changing medical diagnosis. What she thought was an infection from a mosquito bite was actually stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer.
Myel’s treatment included chemo. She needed the support of platelet & plasma transfusions during her treatment. The need for blood products in cancer care is important & often untold. Patients may need blood products regularly due to chemo side effects or surgery complications.
After months of treatment, Myel was told her cancer was in remission in February 2017. “I was more than excited because I survived. I won, and it was time to get my life back! This couldn’t defeat me,” she says.
Myel knows the important role blood products had in helping her get through treatment & encourages others to give. “Everyone needs someone, and this is your time to help someone who needs your blood or platelets. Be a blessing. A pint of blood can help save lives.”
You might not be able to change a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but you can help those going through it by donating blood or platelets. Join the Red Cross and American Cancer Society and make your appointment to #GiveBloodToGiveTime at rcblood.org/3bYtlqn.
According to the American Cancer Society, many patient visits and procedures were forced to delay or cancel early in the pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. With procedures resuming, blood donations are critical for cancer treatments. Unfortunately, the Red Cross is seeing fewer blood and platelet donors give as the nation begins to climb out of this pandemic. This downturn comes at a time when the Red Cross continues to see strong demand for blood products − including platelets − by hospitals, causing concern for the sufficiency of the blood supply this month and throughout the summer.
We currently have an emergency need for eligible donors to make an appointment now to give platelets to ensure critical patient needs are met. Platelets, the clotting portion of blood primarily given to cancer patients during treatment, must be transfused within five days of donation and, therefore, are always in great demand.
“Many cancer patients, especially those going through chemotherapy, will have a need for blood products during treatment,” says Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross. “When someone donates blood or platelets, they may not only help prevent life-threatening bleeding that can cause stroke or relieve some symptoms, like shortness of breath and headaches, but also give patients and their families the time and hope they need to fight back.”
Some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, reducing red blood cell and platelet production. Other times, the cancer itself or surgical procedures cause the need for blood products. About six blood products are needed every minute to help someone going through cancer treatment. Yet only 3% of people in the U.S. give blood. It is vital that more people donate blood and platelets regularly to meet that need.
Crediting blood with saving his life, Bryan Joas advocates for blood donations.
While riding his bicycle home from work in 2016, Bryan Joas was involved in a hit-and-run accident. He suffered life-threatening injuries including a broken back, hips and ribs, and damaged lungs, liver, kidney, and intestines. He needed 12 surgeries during his 88-day hospital stay and received nearly 50 transfusions of blood products that helped save his life.
“Without the blood I needed, I may not have survived,” says Bryan. “I’m grateful to blood donors for ensuring there was blood on the shelves when my life was on the line.”
Five years later, Bryan spends little time thinking about the accident or that the vehicle driver has never been found. He chooses to focus on his health, family and replenishing the blood supply that was used to save his life. Bryan and his wife, Shauna, are both advocates for blood donations. “It’s important to me to help pay it forward. I’m living proof that blood helps save lives, and I urge anyone who is able to donate,” says Bryan.
To make an appointment to give blood dowload the Red Cross Blood Donor App or visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
For patients in the emergency room, fighting cancer or facing a life-threatening illness, help can’t wait. Blood donations are essential. Healthy donors are needed now to ensure that patients have lifesaving blood products available for emergency and everyday medical treatments.
Blood donation safety precautions
To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, individuals who do not feel well or who believe they may be ill with COVID-19 should postpone their donation.
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face covering or mask while at the drive, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance.
April is National Volunteer Month
April is National Volunteer Month – the perfect time to give blood, platelets or plasma. There’s no substitute for volunteer donors: Blood cannot be manufactured. In thanks, come to give by 4/30 to be entered for a chance to win a $1,000 e-gift card. Give: rcblood.org/Gift
Do you know that only 3 out of 100 Americans donate blood each year, but every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood? Here’s another surprise: blood donation can be super easy. Once you’re seated comfortably, the actual donation time takes only 8 to 10 minutes. To help bring more ease for new and continuing donors, below are six things we’d like you to know before donating blood.
You do not need to know your blood type. A national survey conducted earlier this year for the Red Cross revealed that54%of people believe they need to know their blood type to donate blood. Find more eye-popping results here.
You should be well-hydrated. Blood has a lot of water. To promote a good flow during donation and to prevent dizziness during or after, we recommend drinking an extra16 oz.of liquid before donating. Hydrate after, too. Check out our fave water bottle that will help keep you hydrated on the go.
You should eat a healthy meal rich iniron and vitamin Cwhile avoiding high-fat foods just prior to donation. Your body needs iron to make new blood cells, replacing the ones lost through blood donations. Vitamin C promotes iron absorption. Find a list of iron rich foods here. Yum!
You should wearcozy clothes. Whatever’s on top should be loose and comfortable with short sleeves or sleeves that can be easily rolled up above the elbow during your donation. Find our classic T-shirt here in many colors.
You can speed up your appointment time. Complete aRapidPass® on the day of your donation, prior to arriving, and you’ll save time completing your health history that’s required before your donation can begin. Click here for more.
You should remember to bring apicture ID. Your ID can be one primary ID, such your Red Cross blood donor card or state driver’s license; or two other forms of secondary ID. Click here to check for acceptable forms of ID.
Now that you’re feeling more confident about blood donation, click here to schedule an appointment near you. Need more tips? Watch this video of some pro blood donors. They make it look easy, because it is. Thanks!
From serving meals to disaster victims to briefing soldiers before deployments, Red Cross volunteers contribute throughout our communities in many ways. Flora Holmberg serves in another important role: Blood Donor Ambassador at blood drives and fixed donation centers.
What do you do as a Red Cross volunteer? I work as a Donor Ambassador in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Stillwater areas. I greet people who are coming to donate, thank them for coming in, and register them for their donation appointment.
What’s your favorite part or memory of volunteering? I enjoy meeting and visiting with all the great people who come in to donate.
Would you recommend volunteering with the Red Cross to others? Yes! Very much so!! It’s a great organization to volunteer for – it gives you such a great feeling to know that you are a part of something that helps so many people.
How does it feel to help save a life? Watch this video:
We’re always looking for volunteers to help their neighbors in need after disasters like home fires. To volunteer or for more information, click here. Or join us during upcoming 30-minute “Call to Serve” conferences calls:
The arrival of the holiday season often means spending time and exchanging gifts with family and friends. But what if the gift you needed couldn’t be bought? For patients like Mike McMahon, the generosity of blood donations was the perfect gift and didn’t cost anything other than a bit of someone’s time.
Following a tragic tree felling accident on Nov. 10, 2016, McMahon, a Stillwater, Minnesota resident, suffered life-threatening injuries. He needed 11 units of blood during emergency surgery to keep him alive.
He spent the next six weeks in the intensive care unit and inpatient rehab, including three weeks during which he had to be intubated as he was unable to breathe on his own.
During his hospital stay, he also experienced an ulcer on a major artery in his intestines. The ulcer was so severe that he needed an additional seven units of blood and the artery was coiled to stop the hemorrhaging.
“I remember clearly as my nurse hooked me up to the first bag of blood,” said McMahon. “The thought of blood passing through another person’s heart and now into me, to keep me alive, was very emotional. From the first pint to the last, each one was equally moving.”
McMahon was told that he might not be able to do a lot of things ever again – his future was uncertain. However, just a few days before Christmas he was released from the hospital.
McMahon is thankful for blood donors and credits blood donation with helping save his life. “I’m grateful for the donors who gave me such an amazing gift – to spend Christmas and more holidays with my family. I was an occasional blood donor before the accident – today I donate as often as I can to help ensure others receive the same gift of life.”
You can give patients like McMahon more time and memories this holiday season by donating blood at the American Red Cross 6th annual 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive at Inwood Oaks in Oakdale, Minnesota. As a special thanks, all who come to give will be treated to free parking, complimentary gift wrapping, a special gift bag, a long-sleeved Red Cross T-shirt, and holiday food and entertainment and will be automatically entered into hourly prize drawings including grand prizes – a large flat panel TV and a HP laptop computer.
To make an appointment to give blood at the 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive, donors can click here or use sponsor code 12 hours on the Red Cross Blood Donor App, online at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
We hope to see you at the 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive. Happy holidays from your friends at the Red Cross!
Story and photo by Sue Thesenga/American Red Cross
On June 26, 2017, American Red Cross Minnesota Region board members sponsored a blood drive celebrating a century of service in Minnesota. The drive honored men and women in uniform who serve our communities. It came at a critical time: during the summer months when blood donations decline. 87 pints of blood were collected at this drive, helping the Red Cross continue supplying hospitals with blood so patients can receive treatment they need. Below, we share stories about some who helped make this lifesaving blood drive a success.
Laura Antelman is an assistant at a rehab facility. She’s pictured here with Coco, who’s being trained as a service dog at PawPADs (Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs). While service dogs aren’t therapy dogs, they have the same gentle demeanor and help calm people who are afraid of giving blood. Coco did a wonderful job helping people relax, and she got along very well with Laura.
Gene Olesen (pictured left) has donated more than 20 gallons of blood over the past 50 years. He’s been married to Nancy (also pictured), of 48 years. Nancy came with Gene to the drive to donate and to have a lunch date! Less than 7% of the world’s population has Type A negative blood, and Gene is one of them. He says his main reason for donating is to help cancer patients. And despite moving across the country he has continued to donate – from St. Paul to California, and from California to Wisconsin.
Sophia Sexton (far left in photo with friends) is the daughter of Red Cross board member Amy Rolando. It was Sophia’s first blood donation, and she brought 16 of her friends with her. Thank you to Sophia for all the lives she helped save.
Lisa Bardon, the regional accounts manager for the North Central Blood Services Region, shares a caring moment with her husband, Al Wivell (pictured left with Lisa). They both donated blood.
Several donors came in uniform to roll up a sleeve, including Officer Mike Harcey from the St. Louis Park Police Department (pictured left), a first-time donor. He said, “I’ve always wanted to give blood and never made the time. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do it.”
A special thanks goes out to all board members who helped recruit blood donors or helped with the centennial drive. These board members truly demonstrated the Red Cross mission with their hard work. Pictured below, left to right: Amy Rolando, Phil Hansen, Minde Frederick, Jan Hallstrom, Lani Jordan, Joan Purrington, incoming board member Ole Hovde, and Dave Adriansen.
You can help, too The Red Cross is facing a critical blood shortage this summer and has issued an emergency call for eligible blood and platelet donors of all blood types to roll up a sleeve now to help save lives. Blood donations are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in, and more donations are needed now to replenish the supply.
Story by Vivi Engen, American Red Cross Intern, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This is the story about my first time giving blood. I will not spare you the bloody details, because if I did, I would have nothing to write about.
Remember that five-year-old who went in to get her flu shot and needed five nurses (all wearing ear plugs to mute the screaming) to hold her down? Well, that was me. Over time, I have learned to brave getting shots but never fully outgrew the anxiety that comes at the sight of blood and needles. I studiously avoided offering my arm for 20 years, even though I’ve witnessed firsthand how important donating blood can be. I had to swallow hard to overcome that fear, and the good news is, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
Monday, July 13, 2:15 p.m. rolled around much too quickly. A week after I had booked my appointment through the Blood Donor App, I found myself in the Red Cross blood donation center on the third floor at 1201 West River Parkway in Minneapolis. It was the ideal day to give blood. Outside was a blazing 89-degrees topped by an 83% humidity index, so even without giving blood, I felt sweaty and faint just from walking outside.
As I sat in the waiting room (which was comfortably air-conditioned), I sipped on my fifth Nalgene of the day. I realized that I had to use the restroom, again, and decided that I might have taken the recommendation to show up hydrated a little too seriously. My mom, who had agreed to give blood with me, was uncharacteristically late. (She later claimed that she took a wrong turn, but I know that she delayed her arrival because she was just as nervous as I was.)
With time to spare, I scanned the waiting room until my eye caught a poster that asked, “Why do you give?” My mind initially jumped to ‘because my boss suggested it would be a good idea’, but then I realized I had many reasons to give blood—reasons that trumped my fear of needles.
Blood donations help millions of patients in need. In fact, in the past few years, blood donations have helped some of the most important people in my life. My dad, handy man that he is, cut his foot open with a chainsaw a few years ago and he needed blood. This past ski season one of my best friends crashed into a tree and she needed blood. Even more recently, my grandfather died of leukemia. And while he was alive, he received blood transfusions that made him feel much better.
Finally, my mom arrived and both of us were invited back. After a short health history exam and another trip to the bathroom, the nurses began prepping me. But one thing was missing, my partner in crime (a.k.a. mom). A few minutes later, she came in to deliver some tragic news. She would not be able to donate blood today because she had traveled to the Dominican Republic earlier this spring. (The Red Cross has a list of eligibility requirements that blood donors must clear before they can donate, one of those criteria include not having traveled to the Dominican Republic in the past year. For a list of the Red Cross blood donation eligibility criteria click here.)
So I embarked on my blood donation solo. The nurse laid me down on my back in the middle of an open room that offered a great view of downtown Minneapolis. She explained that first-time donors must lie down as a safety precaution. I glanced around the room and noticed that everyone else was sitting up. Perfect, I was instantly labeled as the newbie.
I get chatty when I’m nervous, and the nurse happily obliged, making small talk while she prepared my arm. At one point I asked how many donors they usually receive at this location. She guessed that an average of 15 people a day show up. There were at least 15, if not more, donors in the room at this moment. Word must have spread that I made an appointment and people came to witness the tears and screaming.
Then came the moment I’d been dreading. The nurse told me not to look and slid the needle into my inner-left-elbow-crevasse (I don’t know how else to explain that spot on my arm). She did not stab or jab or pinch, she slid it into my arm. The needle entering was effortless, like it was meant to be there. OK that was an exaggeration, but it was manageable.
12 minutes and 43 seconds later I was done, and to my surprise feeling good! I looked at the pint of blood that had just come out of my body. The nurse saw me eyeing the bag and told me that my donation could help save up to three lives. Three lives? I asked if I had heard her correctly. She nodded and I sat, recovering from what probably counts as the most heroic, if somewhat anti-climactic, 15 minutes of my life.
After the nurses were convinced that I still knew my name and could stand on my own, they told me to slowly make my way to the snack table. I had been obedient for the last hour, but I admit, this time I broke the rules and hurried over to the food. First I enjoyed an M&M cookie, then I grabbed granola bar. Resisting a third snack might have been the most painful thing I did all day.
As I sat indulging myself, I scanned the donation room. There were business people on their way home from work, seniors reading newspapers, even a few students like me. Everyone was sitting up, which meant that they were all experienced donors coming back to save more lives. I knew that I too would be back, next time sitting up like the veterans surrounding me, to participate in one small deed that can make a world of difference.
So trust me: If I can give blood, so can you. And you’ll get a cookie.
Help prevent a seasonal blood supply shortage: A seasonal blood donation decline is common during the summer. Currently, the Red Cross has an urgent need for type AB blood to help replenish the plasma supply. Blood donors with types O negative, B negative and A negative and platelet donors are also especially needed to maintain sufficient supplies. For information about blood donation, or to schedule an appointment, download the Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
During this last week of National Blood Donor Month, we share this personal story from Michelle Rydberg at the American Red Cross St. Croix Valley Chapter based in Bayport, Minnesota. Thank you blood donors who helped save Madeline Rose’s life!
August 2006 was the scariest time of my life. What was supposed to be a routine prenatal visit, ended days later with an emergency c-section when I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a condition that’s defined as high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for both the mother and baby. The only cure for this is delivery at 29 weeks. My little girl was about to be born 11 weeks early and I knew that she wasn’t ready. They were able to keep me stable enough for two days so that I could get a steroid injection to help develop her lungs. I wasn’t allowed to have visitors, phone calls, watch TV or even have bright lights on for fear that I would have a stroke or seizure. I just listened to that little heartbeat.
When it came time for delivery, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. I was scheduled to take my first birthing class that night! They needed to do a c-section because the baby was breech and moving her for a natural delivery would cause too much stress on me and her. The procedure was fast and she was born without complications. They brought her to me for only a moment before taking her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Two pounds, ten ounces, fifteen inches long; my husband called her a “keeper walleye.” I couldn’t believe how small, yet how perfect she looked. Like a tiny rosebud. And so, her name came to be Madeline Rose.
The excitement of becoming new parents was taken away from us as we had to see our little girl hooked up to machines, with wires monitoring everything. Her hands were so little that they fit through her dad’s wedding ring. Luckily the steroid shots worked, because her lungs were strong enough that she did not need a ventilator. Her hemoglobin, however, was low and she was very weak. She wasn’t interested in eating and was having several “episodes” where she would stop breathing. They recommended doing a blood transfusion.
I work for the American Red Cross and have been telling people for years the importance of blood donation. It wasn’t until my own daughter needed one, that I realized just how important this truly is. She needed something to help her survive and it was not something that myself, my husband, the doctors could just fix with medication or a procedure. She needed blood. Blood from a complete stranger. Madeline was in the NICU for two months before we were able to bring her home. During that time she had two blood transfusions. Without them, I don’t know if she would have had the strength to survive.
Madeline Rose beat the odds and graduated from the NICU follow-up clinic with flying colors. She has absolutely no developmental delays or complications from being a preemie. She is now a happy, healthy, smart, beautiful, feisty seven-year-old who excels in school and life.
I recently gave blood and brought Madeline with me, not only because she was interested in the process, but because I wanted her to see the kindness in people, giving their own blood to save the lives of others. I asked her what she thought as we were leaving and she said, “that’s pretty cool.” Yes, it is pretty cool. I encourage anyone who is healthy, to donate blood. It’s only an hour of your time, but can mean a lifetime to someone who needs it.
Click here to learn more about blood donation and to schedule a blood donation appointment.