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Blood drive to be held in honor of Lawrence fifth-grader; regional blood shortage persists

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It was a few days before Christmas 2021. Olive Mitchell was on winter break from the fifth grade and she wasn’t feeling well. 

“She was bruising,” her mother Lauren Mitchell says. “Her bruises were really big and dark, and she was very pale and very tired.”

Lauren took Olive to the doctor. By the end of the day, she was in the hospital. 

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“Our world just exploded,” Lauren says. 

A blood draw revealed dangerously low hemoglobin, white blood cells and platelet counts. Olive had to have an emergency blood transfusion. She received four units of blood, each essential to her survival. 

Olive was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS. She is now in remission, and her mother has worked to organize a blood drive benefiting the Community Blood Center, set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, July 28, at Plymouth Church, 925 Vermont St. A few appointment slots remained as of Wednesday evening. You can make an appointment to donate at this link.

“I think right now a lot of people feel the need to do something, to give back or help,” Lauren says. “There is a lot of sorrow and sadness in our world and I know this is a way you can give back. It’s lifesaving and it’s so easy.”

Chelsey Smith, marketing and communications manager for the Community Blood Center, says the region is suffering from a shortage of blood supplies — a dearth that started in 2020. The Community Blood Center requires a seven-day supply to adequately meet hospital needs, Smith says. Right now the center is at a two- to three-day supply, well below demands. 

“It gets very dangerous when our blood supplies are this low because patients might not receive the treatments they need,” Smith says. “Patients like Olive are the ones who suffer. The only solution for this blood shortage is more donors.”

Donating blood can usually be done in less than an hour. The process typically includes an identity verification, a mini physical, a blood check, the actual donation and a snack. 

After extraction, blood is separated into three components: platelets, plasma and red blood cells, Smith says. Red blood cells are the most commonly transfused component, and they’re used for patients who suffer from blood loss through trauma, surgery, or anemia, according to the Community Blood Center. But platelets and plasma can help people with cancer or other illnesses, meaning that one unit of blood can help up to three people. 

“The reality of the situation is that it’s not just the people who suffer from physical traumas who need blood,” Smith says. “Cancer patients need it too. If you receive a chemo treatment, you almost always receive a unit of platelets.” 

After her diagnosis, Olive was matched with a bone marrow donor, an anonymous 24-year-old man. 

“From diagnosis to her being inpatient, it was really fast,” Lauren says. “She was always in on the conversations. We never did anything without her knowing or understanding. She was always a part of the process.”

While other local kids were celebrating friendship week at school, Olive was undergoing 10 days of chemotherapy before her scheduled bone marrow treatment. 

After the procedure, Olive was soon cancer-free but still too sick to attend school. She had to miss the bulk of her fifth grade year, which Olive found devastating.

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“I’m one of the kids who really loves school,” says Olive, 11. “And so I’m very excited to get back into middle school this year.” 

Olive has already picked out her backpack — a Jansport bag bedecked with yellow sunflowers — and her shoes: a pair of white high-tops that she plans to decorate with her own drawings. 

“I know we like to say kids are resilient,” Lauren says. “But they really are. She is so strong and so resilient. She was well loved on our (hospital) floor, and the nurses were so happy that she was going home, but also so sad (because) they loved her.”

Olive is aware that there is a blood shortage, and that blood both saved her life and could save the lives of people like her. 

“Blood is very important,” Olive says. “It definitely saved me.” 

There are several more blood drives coming up in the Lawrence area. See a list and sign up for an appointment by searching at this link.

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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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