Become a blood donor: Fort Collins blood drive in honor of young girl with a ‘fiery’ spirit

Mother hosts April 23 blood drive, saying: "I just want everyone to know (donating blood) is an easy thing to do. It does save lives — even little kids."
April 13, 2021
Juno, holding a sunflower.
Juno was diagnosed with Leukemia at 8 and a half years old and since has received a lot of blood products. Her mother, Laura, is hosting a blood drive on April 23 in Fort Collins in an effort to give back and aid others in becoming blood donors. Photo courtesy of Laura Smith.

The reasons for becoming a lifetime blood donor have never been more clear for Laura Smith, mother to 9-year-old Juno.

In late 2019, before the pandemic, the Fort Collins mother rushed home to Colorado from a business trip to meet Juno and her father at a Denver children’s hospital after she received a phone call that her daughter might have leukemia. When she arrived, she saw Juno hooked up to an IV. Juno was receiving blood, the first of many blood products she’d need over the next several months.

“I knew then that I’d need to put all of this back into the universe tenfold,” Smith said. “I’m sure I will through my own donations in the course of my life, but Juno’s gotten so much blood that I thought if I could bring others together like me, who thought about donating but were afraid or just hadn’t gotten around to it, then I could start to give back for all that she’s received.”

Becoming a blood donor

The mobile blood drive is open to 70 donors, who can sign up here. Donating takes about 45 minutes and there will be snacks. The Smiths encourage those who can’t make it to the drive to consider donating blood another time. To sign up to be a blood donor, fill out this form.
From 1 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 23, the UCHealth Garth England Mobile Blood Bus will be outside All Star Cleaning Services, Smith’s business at 120 W. Saturn Drive, Fort Collins, for a mobile blood drive in Juno’s honor.

“I just want everyone to know (donating blood) is an easy thing to do,” Smith said. “It does save lives — even little kids’.”

A young girl’s need for blood products

Juno’s diagnosis at age 8 came as a surprise. Juno hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks prior. When flu and strep tests were negative, everyone figured it was “just a bug needing to run its course.” When Juno became too weak to go to school, her parents knew they needed to return to her pediatrician’s office. After the visit, Smith got on a plane for Detroit, and Juno and her father headed home. The doctor had called Juno’s father by the time Smith was in the air. Juno needed to go to the emergency room. She was severely anemic.

Juno, who is helping others to become a blood donor, holds a strawberry.
Juno Smith needs a lot of blood products to battle leukemia. Her mother is hosting a Fort Collins’ blood drive in hopes of encouraging others to become blood donors to help families in similar situations. Photo courtesy of Laura Smith.

Moments after she landed in Detroit, Smith’s phone rang and she learned Juno might have leukemia. Within minutes, Smith was back on a plane to Denver. Her daughter was on her way to the hospital.

“When I got there, I saw she was on a pump,” Smith said. “I thought it was fluids, but it was blood. She’s gotten so many blood products since because her chemo is so much harsher than average due to her unfavorable genetics. The poor girl can’t hold her platelets.”

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Abnormal white blood cells form in the bone marrow and quickly travel through the bloodstream. They crowd out healthy cells and increase the body’s chances of infection and other problems.

People with leukemia often need blood transfusions because the disease can interfere with the normal production of red cells, white cells and platelets in the bone marrow. Chemotherapy drugs can also temporarily impair blood cell production in the marrow and depress the immune system.

Blood donor requirements
To donate blood, a person must be at least 18 years old (or 17 with a parent’s permission) and show photo identification. New blood donors must weigh at least 120 pounds and be in good health. Prior donors must weigh at least 110 pounds with no complications during previous donations. Persons who have received a COVID-19 vaccination must wait 14 days from their vaccination date to donate. Blood safety rules require that individuals may NOT donate for certain reasons or conditions. View all regulations here.

‘Man, that girl has spirit’

For 15 months, Smith and Juno’s father took turns staying in Denver for 3-day shifts with Juno while she received treatments in the hospital.

juno smith on a stuffed garaffe in the hospital, where her mom has become a blood donor.
Juno Smith was diagnosed with leukemia at 8 and a half years old. Now 9, she battles the disease with gusto. Photo courtesy of Laura Smith.

Juno’s doctors call her “spicy tomato” because of her smart and fiery personality.

“Before her diagnosis, Juno was happy and rambunctious, with a sweet heart,” Smith explained.

Since her diagnosis, Juno has turned that mighty spirit on her cancer, becoming a strong advocate for herself.

“She remembers everything we talk about, asks questions … the kid should have an honorary medical degree,” her mother boasted.

Juno has learned to give herself shots and assist with her nasogastric tube that helps carry food and medicine to her stomach through her nose. She’s now back at the family’s Fort Collins home, but her battle is far from over. Unable to attend school, Juno spends a lot of time online with her friends. She will continue chemotherapy treatments through the end of 2021.

“She’s so involved in her cancer,” Smith said. “I’m hoping she’ll come out of this stronger for this, as some sort of silver lining … Man, that girl has spirit.”

Inspiring others to become lifetime blood donors

Juno’s resiliency and gusto has inspired those around her.

Juno blowing out the candles of her 8th birthday cake.
Juno celebrating her 8th birthday, six months before her leukemia diagnosis. Photo courtesy of Laura Smith.

“We wanted to do this blood drive in honor of Juno, but the goal is twofold,” Smith said. “We want to restock blood banks because Juno’s needed so much of that. We also wanted to provide an opportunity for more people to have a chance to experience how easy donating blood is, how easy it is to put good back into the world. You don’t have to have money or even much time to make an impact on society.”

The mobile blood drive is open to 70 donors, who can sign up here. Donating takes about 45 minutes and there will be snacks, Smith said. The Smiths encourage those who can’t make it to the drive to consider donating blood another time. To sign up to be a blood donor, fill out this form.

Although Juno won’t directly benefit from the donations — all blood donations made through the mobile drive will help people in northern Colorado. While Juno is being treated in Denver — Juno’s family knows many others will benefit, just like they did.

 

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.

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