Category Archives: Testimonial

Meet Kellie, with over 100 transfusions to fight cancer

Kellie-PicOn July 3, 2004, 10-year-old Kellie was enjoying a summer camping trip with her family in the White Mountains. It was unusual for Kellie to complain, but when an apparent bug bite on her left knee began to cause severe pain and show signs of infection, her parents decided to take her to the hospital ER in Show Low.

Tests ruled out the suspected bug bite, but revealed an extremely high white blood cell count. Her condition worsened rapidly, so Kellie was flown to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where immediate transfusions of platelets and red blood cells sustained her life until doctors could learn more. A battery of tests confirmed that Kellie’s life was being threatened by the most aggressive form of leukemia – Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).

Kellie-QuoteInstead of celebrating on Independence Day, Kellie began chemotherapy. Over the next nine months, she endured five rounds of treatments accompanied by all the unpleasant side effects – nausea, pain and hair loss. Kellie relied on regular transfusions of red blood cells to fight anemia and platelets to offset the effects of chemotherapy. Kellie’s mom, Tammy, credits blood donors for restoring their hope. “She could barely lift her head off the pillow,” she said. “After the first transfusion, Kellie was dancing in her room within a few hours. It took just one unit of blood to change the life of our sick child.”

After a year of treatments, Kellie went into remission, but the cancer returned six months later. It was time for two more rounds of chemotherapy accompanied by blood transfusions and the hope that she would be strong enough to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Kellie responded to treatments and went back into remission quickly. She received her lifesaving bone marrow transplant on Sept. 22, 2006.

Kellie-PopThroughout her battle with leukemia, Kellie has made it her mission to help kids with cancer by raising funds for Phoenix Children’s HospitalCenter for Cancer and Blood Disorders and Ronald McDonald House. Kellie has strung together “beads of courage” to represent the 131 lifesaving blood transfusions she has received. “If you can help, please do so. If you’re not able to give blood, please ask some friends to donate for you,” she said. Kellie graduated from SunriseMountainHigh School and lives in Peoria with her family.

Meet Keegen, fighting soft tissue sarcoma

Keegen-PicSometimes a completely normal day can change your life. Just ask Keegen. In class at Millenium High School and living his normal 16-year-old life, he noticed an odd lump in his back. It caught his attention when he leaned back in his chair because it was uncomfortable, but not painful. At first, he thought it might just be a knot in a muscle because it didn’t hurt to press on it. At home, Keegen asked his parents to look at it and they also thought it was a knot. The lump was still there two weeks later so his family took him to Urgent Care. The doctor sent him for an ultrasound and an MRI.

Keegen and his family found out on Christmas Eve that it was a tumor located underneath a muscle in his back. They scheduled surgery in January to remove the tumor and get a diagnosis.

The surgery went well, but then the surgeon explained that it was not what he had expected to find and the tumor was deeper than anticipated. Everyone in Keegen’s family stayed optimistic while they waited for the biopsy results.

Keegen-QuoteNothing prepared them for the news from the oncologist– Keegen’s tumor was malignant. He was diagnosed cancer: an unclassified soft tissue sarcoma. His family was stunned. Keegen began a very aggressive treatment plan, including chemotherapy and radiation for 10 months. Luckily, Keegen has four loving parents and a great support system, which is sustaining them through this journey.

An active member of the FFA Organization (Future Farmers of America) at Millennium, Keegen discovered his passion for agriculture and raising animals. In 2012, he raised a pig named “Skywalker.” After 6 months of hard work, time and dedication, he showed her at the Maricopa County Fair and then sold her at auction.

Friends and extended family are a big reason the family can focus on Keegen and his treatments. They have organized fundraisers to help the family, including a BBQ and bull riding benefit, 50/50 raffles, a garage sale and countless donations.Keegen has passed the halfway point in his treatment and has received at least 8 blood transfusions so far. “Thanks to blood donors, I have the strength to fight this cancer,” Keegen said. “I’m humbled and grateful for their help in this battle.” His family is amazed to watch the miraculous change in him after each transfusion. He literally comes back to life and his energy returns.

Keegen-PopKeegen is a senior at Millennium High and plans to study business and agriculture at Kansas State University. He lives with both his families in the West Valley.

Meet Katie, miracle bride

Katie-PicMany people consider Katie to be a “miracle bride,” but she says that she’s just lucky to be alive, thanks to blood donors.

The symptoms first showed up on her wedding day as red dots all over her legs. Over the next few weeks, she began to experience other signs that something might be seriously wrong: shortness of breath, bruising and hallucinations.

Blood tests at her doctor’s office revealed that Katie had virtually no platelets and more white cells than the lab could count. She needed immediate treatment and a blood transfusion. When she got to the emergency room, she still had to wait about six hours for the first transfusion.

Her situation was very critical for the first 72 hours. Even though they had only been married for three weeks, Katie’s husband, Ryan, was told to plan her funeral. The diagnosis was Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APML), a rare type found in a small percentage of patients with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Katie-QuoteKatie spent six weeks in the hospital and then continued her treatment in the outpatient clinic for the remainder of the year. She spent eight hours a day, five days a week getting chemotherapy and fluids to treat the disease. The first round of treatment caused her hair to fall out. The second type of treatment, proven to cure about 70 – 90% of APML patients, caused double vision and Bells palsy, a temporary condition that causes facial muscles to weaken or become paralyzed. Her situation was further complicated when Katie had a severe reaction to the antibiotic vancomycin.

When she had recovered, Katie moved to northern California so she could be a part of an APML research study at the University of California-Davis. Doctors there were amazed by Katie’s progress, especially considering her condition when she began her treatment.

“I get chills when I think of how close I came to dying,” Katie said. “I made a miraculous recovery thanks to blood and platelet donors. I am so grateful to have a second chance to live my life to the fullest.”

Katie-PopKatie completed her treatment nearly eight years ago. Newly single, Katie works for Grand Canyon University. She lives in Phoenix and enjoys spending as much time with her family as possible.

Meet Joshua and Jordan, overcame Sickle Cell Disease

Twins at lake 0401811When Kristine Buchanan’s twins were born in 1997, they received the standard newborn screening blood test given to all babies. The results of this test are typically nothing to worry about. But for Joshua and Jordan, the tests indicated that both boys have the most severe form of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD).

SCD is a genetic disorder that causes the red blood cells to take on the shape of the letter “C”. Because the cells can’t flow normally through the body, they tend to collect in certain areas, causing great pain and organ damage.

The symptoms of SCD typically begin appearing about eight months after birth, when a newborn’s body begins replacing the blood they were born with. Jordan and Joshua exhibited a typical symptom of those with SCD when their hands and feet became swollen and painful. As a matter of fact, they didn’t start walking until their second birthday.

JJ-QuoteKristine can attest to the special bond between Jordan and Joshua. “Even if one of the boys seems sick, I always take the other one along to the doctor as well,” Kristine said. “It amazes me how many times one of them would have a fever, but the other one would need to stay in the hospital.”

Symptom management is key to those families with SCD. The painful episodes that each boy endures about five times a year requires hospitalization and is often accompanied by blood transfusions and pain management medications. “I don’t think that most people realize how important it is for minorities to become regular blood donors,” Kristine said. “The closer the match is for the patient, the lower the risk for reactions and long-term complications. I’m just grateful for the blood donors who save my sons’ lives over and over.”

JJ-PopWhile the boys love school and outdoor activities, their illness limits some of their activities due to risk of infection and bleeding. Even so, Jordan and Joshua hope to become professional wrestlers when they find a cure for SCD one day. For now, they are students at Marcos de Niza High School and live in Chandler with their mom and three brothers.

Meet Joe, recovered from life-threatening bacterial infection

family cropMost people don’t expect a life-altering experience to happen on vacation, but it did for Joe. He was celebrating the New Year in Southern California with his wife, Teresa, and son, Blake. Joe began to experience flu-like symptoms. During the evening, he reached for something and hit his right elbow very hard on the corner of an end table.

The next morning, Joe’s elbow was bruised, but nothing unusual. He still felt as though he was coming down with the flu. By the fourth day, he developed a high fever and his arm was getting more painful. By 4:30 a.m., his elbow was throbbing and twice it’s normal size, so they decided to go to a nearby emergency room.

They were admitted within 10 minutes, but Joe began to pass out when they were attempting to get his vital signs. He was quickly surrounded by emergency room personnel and taken to the last available bed. As a nurse, Teresa suspected Joe was in septic shock and told the ER physician. Joe immediately began treatment with antibiotics. A culture of his elbow revealed the Strep A virus, which was the likely cause of his flu-like symptoms prior to his elbow injury.

Joe-QuoteBy 10:00 p.m., Joe’s arm had tripled in size and he was sent for emergency surgery. That’s when his doctors found the cause of the swelling: Joe had necrotizing fasciitis, better known as a “flesh-eating bacteria.” The bacteria releases toxins that destroy the skin and membranes that surround the muscles. One in four people survive these infections, and those that do often require the amputation of a limb.

Joe spent six days in the intensive care unit and had five surgeries to remove the damaged tissue. Thankfully, doctors were able to save his arm. During that time, he needed two red cell transfusions to stay strong. Joe spent another six days in the hospital before his doctors would allow him to travel back to Phoenix.

But Joe was not out of the woods. He had to remove the bandages daily and utilized a Wound Vac to keep the infection from returning. Two months later, Joe received a skin graft to cover the area that was destroyed by the bacteria. Nearly 12 weeks after his ordeal started, Joe returned to work.

“I never realized the importance of regular blood donation until I had a life-threatening illness,” Joe said. “I am so grateful to the O-negative blood donors who helped me make a full recovery.”

Now a regular blood donor, Joe is glad that he has an opportunity to give back to help other people facing a health crisis. “Because O-negative blood is the universal donor, I feel it’s critical for me to provide as many donations as I can.”

Joe-PopJoe lives with his family in Phoenix.

Meet Gary, Arizona’s singing cowboy

Gary-PicGary Sprague knows that it is just as important to give as it is to receive. Gary and his wife, Peggy, became frequent platelet donors more than a decade ago when a colleague of Peggy’s was diagnosed with cancer. Platelets, the smallest component of whole blood, help blood to clot and control bleeding for cancer patients.

In recent years, Gary has also learned to appreciate the significance of receiving.

In December 2001, Gary needed an emergency appendectomy. Doctors warned him about recovery times and other symptoms to look for that could indicate a post-surgical problem.

Those symptoms didn’t come to mind the following January when Gary thought he was just getting a cold or the flu. He did his best to fight it off, but his fever continued to climb. He told Peggy that a trip to the emergency room was necessary. Peggy rushed him to the hospital where his temperature registered at nearly 107 degrees.

Gary-QuoteStrong antibiotics were not able to break the fever, which was now causing Gary to have hallucinations. As hospice personnel were preparing Peggy for the possibility of Gary’s death, doctors decided to try platelet transfusions as a last option. The units of platelets helped Gary to respond to the other treatments being administered. He returned home from the hospital a few days later to continue his recovery.

“Words can barely express my gratitude to the donors who give platelets regularly,” Gary said. “I believe I am alive today because of their generosity.” Gary often uses a well-known quote from George M. Cohan, the famous Broadway musical composer, to express his appreciation: “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my wife thanks you and I thank you.”

Gary-PopAfter the year waiting period required by the FDA, Gary returned to donating platelets regularly in March 2003. Gary, also known as “Arizona’s Singing Cowboy,” performs for a variety of audiences across the state. He and Peggy reside in Cave Creek.

Meet Dean, O-negative recipient needing regular transfusions

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The night Dean was born, one of his nurses noticed that he looked very pale and insisted on a blood count. The test showed he was severely anemic. Dean was flown to Banner Desert Medical Center’s Nursery Intensive Care Unit and received his first blood transfusion while his mom, Twila, recovered at another hospital. Dean was able to go home after about a week in the NICU.

Twila was still concerned about Dean’s condition when she took him for his two-month check up. The pediatrician conducted another blood test and sent them directly to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. After months of transfusions and testing, while ruling out every other condition, doctors determined that Dean suffers from a rare blood disorder called Diamond Blackfan Anemia (DBA).

Dean-Quote

Patients with DBA do not produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout their body. Corticosteroids often support the body’s efforts to make more red blood cells and are initially helpful for about 79% of people with DBA. Most DBA patients eventually rely on blood transfusions every few weeks to live normally.

In the fall of 2007, doctors determined that the steroid therapy was no longer effective for Dean, so they switched him to another therapy. Dean receives a transfusion of red blood cells every three to four weeks at Phoenix Children’s Hospital where he has received about 58 so far. “It is amazing to see the difference in him after he receives his transfusion,” Twila said. “He is able to focus and relax. It is also humbling to realize that my son’s life is dependent upon other people donating blood. Every blood donor is a true hero to Dean. Words cannot express how thankful we are for the people who donate blood.”

Dean’s red cell count began to rise on its own in June 2011. He has not needed a transfusion since then. His doctors are regularly monitoring his blood counts but now consider him to be in remission. Twila works with a support group to bring DBA families together to share information and inspiration and serves as an advocate for blood donation.

Dean-pop

Dean lives in Mesa with his parents and brother.

Meet Brianna, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor

Brianna 0612 editAs a blood bank supervisor for more than 20 years, Diana’s daily role is to have blood components available for patients who need blood transfusions. “Being both a blood banker and blood drive coordinator takes the process full circle, from recruitment to transfusion,” Diana said. “Who would ever think that today, my daughter, Brianna, would be one of many people added to the long list requiring this precious resource.”

In February 2008, 15-year-old Brianna had all the symptoms of a typical cold. But one month later, Brianna’s cough still lingered and she became more and more lethargic. Diana knew a visit to the hospital was in order. At Banner Children’s Medical Center, doctors gave them the terrible news: tests showed that Brianna was fighting stage-three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which fights infection throughout the body and includes the spleen and the bone marrow.

Brianna-QuoteDoctors performed biopsies on the tumors that surrounded Brianna’s lungs and began chemotherapy. Initial blood tests indicated that Brianna was severely anemic. During her first round of treatment, she received 12 red blood cell and one platelet transfusion.

Every 28 days, Brianna received a cycle of chemotherapy, accompanied by two or three transfusions. She would spend three to four days in the hospital on a very specific regimen of treatment. Brianna has had several setbacks common to lymphoma patients. Side effects from the treatment caused 70% of her hip joint to collapse in November 2008. Surgery repaired the joint, but it put an additional burden on the bone marrow to fight the disease and strengthen the hip. “Even though my mom has been in the ‘blood business’ for years, blood was not a tangible thing,” Brianna said. “I might never have felt the importance of blood if I hadn’t been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

Brianna’s prognosis is good for a full recovery. “Because I had a blood cancer, I can never be a blood donor. But I hope my story will remind people of the lifesaving gift that donors provide. They are my heroes.”

Brianna-popA graduate of Barry Goldwater High School, she traveled to Oregon to attend Lewis & Clark College for a year. Brianna returned to the Valley to continue her education. She is studying at Phoenix College to become a phlebotomist. Brianna resides in Glendale.

Meet Avari, from Yuma who needs monthly transfusions

ava in toy store 1014In 2011, Anya and Todd welcomed their newborn daughter, Avari, to their family. A few weeks later, the baby had a cough and fever that wouldn’t go away. A visit to their family doctor in Flagstaff reassured them, but he recommended a complete blood count just to be sure.

Because her blood test results were so low, they were sent to Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) for admission and Avari’s first blood transfusion. Anya and Todd met with a hematologist there to discuss a possible diagnosis. At seven weeks old, they received the news that Avari was born with Diamond Blackfan Anemia (DBA), a rare blood disorder that prevents her body from producing red blood cells.

Avari-QuoteAvari’s doctors put her on a course of transfusion therapy. She gets blood tests every three to four weeks and if her blood counts are low, she comes to Phoenix for a red cell transfusion.

“Avari lives on borrowed blood,” Anya said. “I am so thankful for blood donors. If people didn’t give regularly, my daughter might not be here today.”

So far, Avari has received 16 red cell transfusions. The family makes regular visits to the lab in Flagstaff along with follow up treatment at PCH, with more monitoring, testing and transfusions in her future.

Avari-Pop“Our whole family has been impacted by Avari’s diagnosis,” Anya stated. “Even my oldest daughter sometimes pretends that her dolls have DBA.”

“We are grateful for the chance to help raise awareness about the need for blood transfusions,” Anya said. “We encourage our friends and family to donate blood as often as they can.”

Avari lives with her family in Flagstaff.

Meet Alicia, cancer survivor

Alicia School Pic crop2While most people complain about stomach aches after Thanksgiving dinner, Alicia began complaining about pains in her left leg and foot in 2004. Then she started to limp. Her mother, Shelly, took her to their family doctor, who referred them to specialists looking for the cause of the problem. Then she heard the most frightening news a parent could hear, “Your daughter has cancer.”

In January 2005, Alicia was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare but aggressive form of bone cancer. She was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital to begin intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

After three weeks of treatments, Alicia was sent home to continue her recovery. But a high fever sent her back to the hospital a few days later. Her blood cell counts were so low that her doctor ordered a blood transfusion. The doctor assured Alicia’s family that the transfusion was just the medicine she needed to feel better. The family could see an immediate difference. The color returned to her face and even her attitude was more positive.

Alicia-QuoteAlicia received seventeen red blood cell and platelet transfusions to help her battle the side effects of chemotherapy. During a visit to the clinic, Alicia commented, “Even though I’m in pain, all I need is some blood and I will feel better.” She received her last chemotherapy treatment in November 2005. She currently shows no sign of recurrence and will be monitored annually.

Alicia made many sacrifices to get better. During her treatments, she could not have fast food, go to the movies or play soccer. She was home-schooled following her diagnosis, but returned to public school in January 2006. All of these things were minor inconveniences, according to her mother. “We are grateful for every blood transfusion that Alicia received,” Shelly said. “Each one made her stronger. Blood donors are true heroes in my daughter’s battle with cancer.”

Alicia-popAlicia graduated from Liberty High School in May 2012. She lives with her family in Peoria.