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
“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.
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.
‘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’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.
“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.