A bond over a child’s blood draw

Boy, 7, feared giving blood samples before he met a friendly phlebotomist and her orange, blood-sucking butterfly
December 4th, 2019

A lot of kids dread blood draws. Beaudin Larrabee, 7, has had dozens. They used to be torture for him – and his parents – as he screamed and writhed in protest.

His father, Joshua feared he would lose his son’s trust: “I have to hold my son down so that he can be hurt, and that doesn’t seem natural.”

Boy hugs his phlebotomist at the hospital before a blood draw.
Beaudin Larrabee, 7, hugs phlebotomist Deb Romero at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital before she draws his blood for one of the last times. Photos by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

Sometimes, it would take four people to hold Beaudin down.

A different blood draw

Deb Romero, phlebotomist at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital, has drawn blood professionally for 18 years. When she was a child, she would resist having her blood drawn. She remembers multiple people in white clothing, holding her down so they could draw her blood.

“One person helped me overcome fear, and it just trickles down,” she said.

She first met Beaudin in February, when he arrived at the hospital with his father, who braced for another agonizing episode. A month earlier, Beaudin was diagnosed with leukemia. Regular blood draws were required before each round of chemotherapy.

“The first day, he was so scared,” Romero said of the boy, adding that she took extra time to warm his vein with a heating pad, and to kindly explain what she was doing. “I know kids respond to tone.”

She asked if he’d ever seen an orange butterfly. She showed him the butterfly needle, with flexible orange wings, to draw blood.

When Beaudin got home that day, his mother Betsy asked how it went.

“I was just like, ‘It went fine,’” Joshua told his wife. “The variable was Deb.”

She ‘gave him a voice’

In October, Beaudin went in for one of his last blood draws with Romero, who was soon moving away.

Wearing a little pearl-snap shirt and blue jeans, the blond-haired boy bounced on a waiting room chair as he waited to see Romero. She opened the door, and he eagerly rushed up to hand her a bunch of pictures of him, his school and his family.

Boy meets his friend the phlebotomist, sharing photos with her at the hospital.
Beaudin Larrabee shares photos with phlebotomist Deb Romero at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital while the boy’s family watches.

He sat down in the blood draw chair and started playing with the armrest. Romero gave him a heating pad to warm up his arm. And Beaudin watched for the orange butterfly needle.

“OK butterfly, suck my blood,” he said. “Suck my pollen.”

He told Romero that school was going well, and his favorite subject is math.

“That’s so good that you’re learning all this wonderful stuff,” Romero said as she proceeded with the blood draw. “He does such a good job, and he holds so nice and still.”

Even with a small crowd of photographers and writers there to report on the occasion – a young child’s possibly last blood draw with the phlebotomist who helped him overcome fear – Beaudin seemed cheerful and comfortable. After a quick moment, the blood draw was complete.

Beaudin received a stuffed, yellow bear and, with Romero supervising, sent his own samples to the lab through a pneumatic tube.

“Kids have so little say when they have cancer,” Betsy said. “Deb gave him a voice.”

Boy sits next to his phlebotomist after she takes his blood at the hospital.
Beaudin Larrabee has his blood drawn by phlebotomist Deb Romero at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital.

He’s getting better

Beaudin’s symptoms began in early December 2018, when he had a 104 Fahrenheit fever that wouldn’t go away.

“He had no other symptoms, and none of our other children were getting it,” Betsy said.

Later that month, he was hospitalized with a persistent high fever and a mouthful of canker sores. He was in a weakened state, but Betsy said experts suspected he had a virus.

His condition improved, and he returned to school before, weeks later, he was admitted to an emergency department with another fever. In January came the diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Beaudin started chemotherapy treatments. But he remained tough. He lost his hair, but that didn’t stop him from playing soccer earlier this year, Joshua said.

Now, he’s in what’s called the maintenance period, with continuing chemotherapy. He’s made progress, and if all goes well, he’ll be through his treatments by March 2021, Betsy said.

Beaudin continues to go to Longs Peak Hospital for his blood draws. Betsy said the appointments continue to be a relatively positive experience.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m walking into a hotel,” she said. “They know his name. They just kind of let him be a kid.”

And as for Deb, Betsy said, she’s a “shining star.”

Beaudin's family stands for a photo after he had his blood drawn at the hospital.
Joshua and Betsy Larrabee stand with their children Jude (left), Selah and Beaudin shortly after Beaudin had his blood drawn at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital.