Before their children were born, Kent and Ashland Brown frequently donated blood together to help save lives, but they never imagined they might one day need blood for one of their own children. When Sam was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the fourth grade, frequent blood transfusions helped replace red cells, platelets and other blood components lost during chemotherapy.
“We knew blood was vital for helping patients survive the rigors of cancer treatment,” said Ashland. “But seeing Sam go through his treatment, we came to understand and appreciate the need for blood donations even more.”
At 10, Sam was an active, normal boy playing basketball and football. But in June, 2010, he began three and a half years of chemotherapy that changed his life forever. The first year of treatment was a harsh protocol of treatment that caused Sam to lose his hair and prevented him from going to school. Sam took daily chemo that attacked the cancerous leukemia cells in his blood. He received chemo in a port that was placed in his chest and in his cerebrospinal fluid to kill cancer cells that could hide in his brain.
He would have trouble breathing and become sleepy when his hemoglobin got low. A blood transfusion, rich in oxygen, would revive him and restore the natural processes that sustain life itself.
“A transfusion gave him the energy to walk and play with his twin brother and younger sister,” said Ashland. “He also needed many platelet transfusions to combat the effects of the aggressive chemotherapy. When his platelets were low, his mouth would bleed so easily that he could not brush his teeth. Bruises would appear on his arms and legs.”
In that first year alone, Sam received 39 blood and platelet transfusions.
Today, Sam requires maintenance chemotherapy and continues to need plasma transfusions. Despite his low immunity from chemotherapy, plasma is providing him with antibodies from other donors, and these transfusions have allowed Sam to return to school. He and his twin brother are now in the same homeroom and have all their classes together. Sam is able to live a fairly normal life, cheered on by his ever-present teammates, his brother and little sister. They have been constant supporters.
In October, Sam will complete three and a half years of chemotherapy and plans to celebrate by holding a blood drive with the support of his family. Since Kent and Ashland were blood donors long before he was even born, a strong tradition of supporting the community blood supply will no doubt make Sam’s event a success.
“Every transfusion that Sam received meant that someone cared enough to give their time, their energy, and their blood so that he could get well,” said Ashland. “We saw first hand how powerful each unit of blood was in restoring Sam’s life, and we know that each donor was special. We are incredibly thankful for every donation.”