Fallentimber, Pa. Family Thankful for Blood Donors

March 25, 2013

It was October 2011 when Joe Ann and Brian Storm noticed their two-year-old son Drue had a rash and wasn’t feeling well. Like any parents, they assumed it was just a virus and took him to the doctor. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics for Drue and told Joe Ann that if things didn’t improve in a few days to bring him back in.

Drue’s rash continued to get worse and his lack of energy worried his mother so they went back to the doctor. The antibiotics didn’t seem to be helping and Drue had begun to bruise easily so the doctor sent them to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., for further testing. A number of tests were performed, including a spinal tap.

On November 3, Joe Ann and Brian got the news that no parents want to hear; their toddler had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Speaking about receiving the news Joe Ann said, “We were told we were lucky because ALL is a curable form of cancer, but that Drue would have to undergo chemotherapy treatments for at least three and a half years, and we would have to make a lot of changes in our lives.”

Joe Ann went on to explain, “Drue spent nine days in Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for the induction phase of his chemotherapy. He was treated with steroids to help his body absorb the medication and a number of other drugs, including vincristine and methotrexate. He also received blood transfusions while in the hospital.” His cancer was forced into remission and on the day before Thanksgiving Drue was declared cancer free. He then moved on to the consolidation or intensification phase of his treatment in which more drugs are used to get rid of leukemia cells from other places they can hide.

On July 12, 2012, Drue was started on his maintenance therapy which includes: five days of steroids each month, a monthly spinal tap, and daily oral medications for the next three years. This stage of the treatment will continue until January 2015. Like the majority of other cancer patients Drue deals with the side effects of chemotherapy.”It breaks my heart seeing what the chemo does to him. He goes from being happy, energetic, and loving little boy to irritable and lethargic because of the drugs,” said Joe Ann when discussing the side effects. “The steroids cause mood swings and the other drugs attack and destroy his blood cells.”

Chemotherapy targets cells that are actively growing and dividing, which is a defining characteristic of cancerous cells. Blood cells are also actively growing and dividing so they are also attacked by the chemotherapy drugs. Some cancer patients like Drue fight the chemo’s effect on blood cells with blood transfusions. Blood is made up of three important components: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, with each component having a specific purpose.

Red blood cells provide oxygen to tissues in the body; without the oxygen patients feel weak, have a lack of energy, and bruise easily. Joe Ann said, “There is a visible difference in Drue after he has had a transfusion; any bruises he has start to disappear, there is an increase in his energy level, and his color returns. The blood transfusions definitely help.”

White blood cells are the component of blood that fights infections. “The risk of infection is something we really have to pay attention to; it’s the reason why Drue is not able to attend his brother’s and sister’s sporting events, or to go to the beach and swim or play in the sand, or to even have a real Christmas tree,” said Joe Ann. Something as seemingly routine as a cold or the flu can have drastic consequences for Drue; any type of virus Drue contracts means a trip to the hospital for antibiotics and a blood count. If the antibiotics don’t work and Drue’s blood count is low a transfusion is done to raise the blood count.

The third component of blood is platelets; they are the clotting agent in blood, without those people can suffer from uncontrollable bleeding. “For Drue a small cut can be a real danger so he has to be watched carefully, and isn’t able to do a lot of things that a child his age does, like learning to ride a bike, or climbing a tree,” Joe Ann commented.  “A lot of the things that are a part of growing up for a little boy we have to avoid because of the risk of Drue getting hurt.”

Drue has had at least four whole blood transfusions and three platelet transfusions since his battle began. Drue would not be able to get these transfusions without people willingly donating their blood at blood drives. When speaking about the importance of blood donations for cancer patients Joe Ann says, “They would die. If they don’t get the blood they need, they would die. Because the cancer and chemo is beating all the blood cells and it depletes their blood.”

Joe Ann has understood the importance of donating blood since her first donation in high school. She has been an advocate of blood donation and an active donor ever since. She works hard to relay the message of the importance of blood donation to as many people as she can, and says, “not a day goes by that I don’t tell someone about the importance of donating blood, not just for Drue but for all of the people who need blood to save their lives every day.” She even convinced Drue’s grandfather to donate blood for the first time in his life.  

Joe Ann has worked with the American Red Cross to sponsor two blood drives in honor of Drue, and plans to make the drive an annual event. Blood donors helped to save Drue’s life, and they help save the lives of countless others every day. “As long as I can help spread the word and get others to donate blood I will because donating blood is very important,” says Joe Ann.

Today Drue is cancer free and continuing his maintenance therapy. He owns a strand of beads that symbolize everything he has gone through. The red beads are a symbol of every time he received a blood transfusion. “He is a normal three-year-old boy, at least as normal as a three-year-old can be who has been through everything he has,” says Joe Ann.

Drue loves Star Wars, Legos, strawberries, and wants to be a superhero or a doctor when he grows up. Drue will turn four in March and this coming fall will start pre-school, just like any other four-year-old boy.

You can offer prayers and moral support, and follow Drue’s progress on his Team Drue Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Team-Drue/154406844676470.

Photos captions from top: Drue in the hospital;  Drue (at left) with his siblings; Drue says Thanks