Blood Donations Mean the World to Pediatric Patients Fighting Leukemia

Northwestern Medicine
Cancer Care/Oncology September 08, 2020
15-year-old Jacqueline Hamann has a sweet smile and is ready to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. She’s been through a lot over the last two years as she battles leukemia, but through it all, her message is, “you’re going to get through it.”

Jacqueline has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells. She explains what’s happening in her body with a set of stuffed animal cells she received from Allie Jones, child life specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

“I use the teaching stuffed animal cells to help slowly break things down for kids and teens in a more concrete way,” Jones says. “The blood cells serve as visuals to help empower them in understanding more about their diagnosis and treatment.”

It’s clear that Jacqueline feels confident explaining what’s happening inside her body with the toy cells. She holds up a stuffed red blood cell, platelet, and white blood cell – all three have eyes, just like any stuffed animal.

“This is the white ninja, it helps get rid of the cancer in my body and the infections,” Jacqueline explains.

She then unzips the white blood cell’s smiling face and turns it inside out until it morphs into a fuzzy, grey frowning cancer cell. Jacqueline’s expression changes at the sight of it.

“I don’t like to look at it when it’s bad,” she says. “I change it back.” She turns it back into a smiling white blood cell. 

Blood transfusions have been a critical part of Jacqueline’s treatment to replace the different types of cells in her body. Her father, Jeff, estimates she’s had at least 50 different blood transfusions, all of which are dependent upon blood donations.

“Each one of those transfusions happened because somebody decided to go in and be a donor, and that’s pretty humbling,” Jeff says.

With September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Northwestern Medicine partnered with Versiti Blood Centers to help spread the word about blood donations. COVID-19 created a local blood shortage due to the cancellation of over 4,500 blood drives in Illinois. This led to a loss of almost 100,000 potential units of lifesaving blood.

“Volunteer blood donors giving up an hour of their time is how we ensure that blood products are available when and where they are needed most for our patients, as there is no artificial substitute for this lifesaving product,” says Amy Smith, area vice president at Versiti Blood Centers

While some might be afraid or hesitant to donate blood, Jacqueline offers some encouragement.

“I went through a lot, so don’t be scared, you can do this,” she says before adding an enthusiastic “thank you!”

Those who are able to donate are encouraged to share this invaluable gift with other patients like Jacqueline by giving blood at a Versiti donor center or community blood drive. To find one near you, head to www.versiti.org/pintsforhope.

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