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Young cancer patient’s family encourages blood, platelet donations

Greater Ozarks-Arkansas

February 19, 2014
 

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Morgan Schwehm may not know it, but at two years old she has superhero powers like her favorite comic book characters. She may not have an emblazoned bodysuit like Batman or a shield like Captain America, but her smile and laugh as she battles stage IV cancer are just as strong.

“To see her smile and try to find the fun in things, when she’s going through something that is so miserable at times, is amazing,” said Jeremy Schwehm, Morgan’s father. “Before her diagnosis, Morgan was very shy. Now, she’s outgoing and quick to talk to just about anybody. She’s around so many doctors and nurses that it’s really brought her out of her shell. That’s one of the positives we hold onto.”

In September 2013, after complaining of abdominal pain, Morgan’s doctors diagnosed her with nueroblastoma, a cancer that develops around immature nerve cells, often near adrenal glands in the abdomen. According to the Mayo Clinic, it most commonly affects children who are age five or younger.

 “Despite initial doctor visits that didn’t reveal much, she was losing her appetite and a lot of weight. When the day came she didn’t want to play because her stomach hurt, we knew something wasn’t right,” Schwehm said.

A football-sized mass was detected in Morgan’s abdomen. In the weeks following, she endured hospital stays, intense chemotherapy treatments and surgery. She required blood and platelet transfusions to help her body battle the cancer.

“I never realized how important giving blood or platelets was,” Jeremy said. “It wasn’t something I really thought about. Now, I know what it means to a family who needs it.”

Like any good superhero, Morgan is fighting her foe with the help of a team. Her sister and best friend, 6-year-old Meg, along with her parents Jeremy and Liz have all joined forces to keep Morgan’s spirits up.

Morgan’s AB negative blood type is rare. Since her diagnosis, her family has worked to spread the word about the need for donors to help Morgan and other patients like her.

“We were amazed by the outpouring of support,” Jeremy said. “The Rotary in Arkansas helped get the word out. We had  people come forward who thought they might be able to donate. Those who knew they weren’t a match still emailed us asking if there was another way they could help. It was incredible.”

In March, Morgan will face a stem cell transplant, which will likely require more transfusions to help keep her healthy.

Regardless of whether someone’s blood type matches Morgan’s, Jeremy and Liz are encouraging people to become regular blood and platelet donors so there is a stable supply available for patients in need.

“All you have to do is take a walk through a children’s oncology ward to realize how important it is,” Schwehm said. “If someone isn’t a match for Morgan, they’re probably going to be a match for one of the other dozens of patients in need. If I could give Morgan all of the blood she needed, I would. But I can’t. So, families like us rely on people who are willing to give, and we’re so thankful they are there.”

More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year. Many of them will need blood during their chemotherapy treatment. Cancer and leukemia patients use platelets because chemotherapy can prevent a patient’s bone marrow from making enough platelets to enjoy every day activities. Most radiation and chemotherapies can lower blood counts for red cells, white cells and platelets, while cancer-related surgeries can cause blood loss.

How to donate blood

Simply call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit redcrossblood.org to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.