It’s a rainy Wednesday morning at the Blood Donor Centre in Maroochydore and four people are sitting in the waiting room, preparing to give blood – a man in a business suit, a middle aged woman and two retirees. A group of teenagers from Chancellor State College bursts through the door, adding some young blood to the mix. Sixteen-year-old Taylah has never given blood, but today, she has overcome her fear of needles to give a donation that will save three lives.
Her selfless act is made all the more meaningful when she meets a special visitor, four-year-old Elki Guymer, who has leukaemia. Without the generous support of blood donors like Taylah, Elki would not have made it past her third birthday.
“We’d been looking at her and thinking, gosh she looks pale,” says Elki’s mum, Lisa Dean. “She had a few bruises on her arms and legs. Looking at photos from back then, she was falling asleep at the dinner table or falling asleep while she was playing. All those things you think are really cute at the time, we look back at those photos and say, that was cancer.”
Elki is big on fairytales. Lisa and Elki’s dad Jevon, her two sisters and community of supporters are hoping for a fairytale ending for this vivacious little Nambour girl, who has been through hell after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia on New Year’s Eve 2016. An immediate blood transfusion at Nambour Hospital saved her life.
“The cancer cells had taken over so much of her blood volume that she had no platelets, no coagulant,” Lisa says. “She could have bled to death internally if she knocked her head because there would have been no way to stop the bleeding.”
Since that harrowing day in January last year, Elki has needed seven more blood transfusions and four immunoglobulin injections. It’s hard to believe the little girl happily chatting to Taylah in her beads and pink ballet slippers, has been so sick.
Lisa keeps a watchful eye over Elki while she talks to Team Adem activists, Brent and Lu Crosby. The well-known Buderim couple lost their beloved son Adem in 2013 at the age of 19, also to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The two families have become friends and Elki’s blood donor community, which has saved 486 lives, has become a vein that feeds into the larger Team Adem artery, now the largest Red25 Blood Donation Community in Australia.
“It’s an absolute credit to Lisa and Jevon,” says Brent. “We know what it’s like. They’ve got so much on their plate and have other young children, so to do what they’re doing is inspirational. We’re very proud to have them on Team Adem’s blood donation community.”
Team Adem, the charity Adem Crosby set up to spread awareness of the need for blood donation and raise money for patients and families affected by a cancer diagnosis, has helped save over 50,000 lives since 2011. It’s a remarkable achievement, but with one in three Australians needing blood at some point in their lives, it’s a drop in the ocean.
“The Australian Red Cross Blood Service needs 115,000 new donors this year and is looking to recruit 10,000 new donors this June alone,” says Rebecca Ind, community relations officer at the Blood Donor Centre in Maroochydore.
“We need 50 new donors a week on the Sunshine Coast who have never donated blood to join.
“An estimated nine million Australians are eligible to give blood, but only 500,000 actively do so and we’re asking the remaining 8.5 million to pitch in and help their local community.
“Brent and Lu have inspired people to give blood through sharing their story. They’ve put a face to it. Team Adem are pillars of the community and now it’s time for the nation to say thank you for their efforts. People underestimate how much it takes for Brent and Lou to be out there every day, working with such courage and passion.”
Ironically, after her tireless work promoting blood donation, Lu herself became a blood recipient when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. Lu is now in remission and back to work. On March 21 this year, Lu became the first patient to be seen at the Adem Crosby Centre when she went for her annual checkup. This state-of-the-art cancer care centre at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital bears her son’s name.
“I had three blood transfusions,” Lu says. “I can speak first-hand, I was a blood donor for Team Adem, and then I became a blood recipient. I’m very grateful to all the generous blood donors out there who enabled me to recover from my harsh treatment.
“If donors were to donate just four times a year, it would make a life-saving difference to 12 people,” Brent says.
“We’ve spent hundreds of hours in oncology wards seeing people receive blood product transfusions. Many of these patients would struggle to survive if they didn’t receive these blood products. Cancer treatment is pretty hard – it kills off all of your healthy cells along with the bad cells, so the transfusions become a life-saving necessity.”
If you’ve ever wondered where your money goes when you donate to a charity, there’s no question what happens with your blood when you donate. During a regular donation, you give around 470 millilitres of whole blood – about eight per cent of your blood volume, which the body replaces within 24 to 48 hours. You can donate whole blood, plasma or platelets and your blood can be made into 22 medical treatments.
“Several weeks ago I donated platelets,” Brent says. “The Red Cross Blood Service now sends you a text message when your blood goes to a recipient. A few days after my donation, I received a text saying my donation was being used at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. It was highly likely my platelet donation would have gone to a child with a cancer diagnosis.”
A child just like Elki, who charms everyone she meets at the Blood Donor Centre, with her beautiful eyes and brown curls, which have grown back after 18 months of chemotherapy. She has one more year of treatment left, but thankfully, the treatment appears to be working.
“She is mostly in the clear but it’s still quite scary because we see a lot of children like Elki relapse,” Lisa says. “We know we’re not out of the woods. We are part of Team Adem’s community and every fortnight when she has her blood test, we give plasma. It also helps her to become OK with needles. She sees that mummy and daddy are doing it, so she doesn’t feel as bad.”
If you’ve ever considered donating blood, Lisa has an important message for you: “Elki has to have blood tests every two weeks to check on her blood counts. If a little four-year-old can have her vein accessed every two weeks, I think adults can too. You’re giving something that can save a little kid like Elki, because without blood donations, she wouldn’t be here.”