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Steady lifeline of blood donors gives cancer patient hope

Patients like Amelia Saunders of St. John’s could not survive without the generosity of Canadians who take the time to donate blood regularly.
Patients like Amelia Saunders of St. John’s could not survive without the generosity of Canadians who take the time to donate blood regularly. - Contributed

Just last summer, Amelia Saunders of St. John’s was camping with her family when her parents, Veronica and Doug, noticed she was not herself.

The normally happy three-year-old was cranky, tired and walking with a limp. Two days later, she developed a fever and red spots on her legs. They brought her to the doctor and while in the waiting area, Amelia started bleeding from her mouth. They were rushed to the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre.

Fast-forward 24 hours later to the hospital where Veronica and Doug heard the devastating news no parent wants to hear: their baby had leukemia.

“Like many people, I never really thought about the blood supply,” says Veronica. “Not until I was in the hospital watching my daughter go through treatment. In the first 10 days of her treatment, Amelia received 11 blood transfusions.”

That’s when it hit them: patients like Amelia could not survive without the generosity of Canadians who ensure there is enough blood available by taking the time to donate blood regularly. It takes up to eight donors a week to help someone with leukemia. The constant, steady lifeline of blood donors is vital to cancer patients receiving treatment.

Watching Amelia receive blood felt personal and surreal to her parents.

“Seeing blood go into my child’s body reminded me that this immediate and direct gift was because of a safe and dependable blood organization and generous donors who give of themselves,” says Veronica. “The people donating blood give without knowing where it’s going — they just know they are helping someone in need. I’m in awe when I think of their generosity.”

Amelia and her family stopped in the donor centre on Wicklow Street over the holidays to show blood donors how their donations are helping patients like her and thank them directly. There, they met a group of high school students donating for the first time and an older man who was making his 107th donation.

“It was one of the most inspiring, overwhelming and gratifying experiences of my life,” says Veronica.

She recalled how she would watch her mother donate blood regularly, how her father received blood transfusions, and that she, too, once needed a blood transfusion after a surgery. Regardless, Veronica took for granted that blood would always be available.

“You never know when you’re going to need blood,” Veronica says. “That’s why it’s vital for Canadian Blood Services to be able to recruit healthy donors so they can continue making sure the blood is there when Amelia and others need it. It’s such an amazing gift. It’s a gift that any one of us can need in our lives. Blood donors keep the system going.”

Doug is now a regular blood donor and Veronica is working out her fear of needles — she faints whenever she gets her bloodwork done — and plans to donate for the first time on her birthday. With Amelia facing a long road of cancer treatment, her parents know they must do everything they can to keep her alive — and help others in similar situations.

“There are no words to describe how it feels to know your child’s health is in danger. I would do anything to save her,” says Veronica. “When Amelia was admitted into the hospital, she was in the ICU, hooked up to machines and wires. For four days, I was not able to hold her. Because of the amazing care she received, including the blood transfusions, I was able to pick up my baby and hold her again.”

More than half of Canadians know a family member or friend who has needed blood products. It could be someone you know who needs blood next, and the best way to help is to ensure blood will be on hand to save his or her life. To get more information on how you can support Canada’s lifeline as a blood donor or as a volunteer, please visit blood.ca.

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