Friends of Sadie is a group of moms who were inspired by one little girl’s cancer journey.  While looking for ways to help, they learned that Sadie and other cancer patients often require blood transfusions as a result of cancer treatments.  After securing designated blood donations for Sadie’s tumor resection surgery in the fall of 2009, Friends of Sadie realized that they could help ensure a safe and adequate supply of blood for others by hosting their first blood drive in Burke Centre, Virginia, on Valentine’s Day 2010.  Friends of Sadie are committed to educating the community about the importance of blood donation and also work to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer organizations.  Now held every year on the Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day, the Annual Valentine Blood Drive encourages its donors to bring their children, who are invited to engage in thoughtful activities while their parents are donating.  Our hope is that participation in this annual event will encourage families to celebrate Valentine’s Day by exploring the true meaning of love and doing kind things for others. The gift of life is the gift of hope.

Mission Statement:

Friends of Sadie, inspired by one little girl’s cancer journey, makes blood donation relevant and accessible to local Fairfax, Virginia communities while raising awareness and funds for childhood cancer organizations.

Friends of Sadie: (from left) Erin Morrissey-Lauer, Laurie Florence, Heather Wickham, Carole Letzkus, Mary Mulvenon, Amy Dozier, Erin Lee

Interview with Erin Morrissey-Lauer, Sadie’s mom, January 2012

by Kate Mulvenon, age 12

What was your first reaction when you heard that Sadie was diagnosed with cancer?

When Sadie was born, she had a mysterious and scary problem that made her turn blue/purple on occasion. During her first week of life, Sadie had many doctors (in three different hospitals) who tried to figure out what was wrong. Each doctor seemed to have a theory, did his/her tests, then came back with nothing. After a week, the episodes seemed to subside and Sadie was thought to have “outgrown” the problem. Sadie was born in Wisconsin, so as soon as we travelled home to Virginia, we took her to our pediatrician. She was very thorough and referred Sadie to all sorts of specialists. By that point, we wished the doctors would just leave Sadie alone because she seemed to be doing fine; we thought her medical problems were behind her. The pulmonologist (doctor who deals with respiratory issues) wouldn’t release Sadie because he was worried about the upcoming cold and flu season. Test after test found that we had to keep investigating, as something was just not right near the top of Sadie’s lung. With each test, we hoped for the best and were completely caught off guard after that fateful MRI when the pulmonologist solemnly told us that Sadie had an “impressive” mass and would immediately be admitted to the hospital. It seemed as though one day she was home with her family, happily celebrating her 3rd month birthday and the next, she was back in a hospital, hooked up to monitors because she was thought to be critically ill. Sadie had a biopsy the next day and the oncologist (doctor who deals with cancer) told us that she had cancer, but didn’t yet know what kind. We were devastated. Sadie had already been through so much in her short life and we wanted nothing more than for her to be healthy and happy.

Did you instantly want to help?

We were singularly focused on helping our baby endure the grueling diagnosis process. She was so tiny and was subjected to so many difficult tests just to determine the type of cancer she had. When we heard those horrible words, “Sadie has cancer,” it felt so foreign to us. How could a brand new baby have cancer? We had never known any pediatric cancer patients before Sadie. One minute in the pediatric oncology ward changed all of that.

How did you feel while Sadie was going through treatment?

Sadie’s treatment plan developed very slowly, so we often felt impatient. We just wanted her to be healed! The first plan of attack was surgery. We knew that it would be very risky because of where the tumor was in relationship to vital arteries and nerves, so we were extremely nervous. We felt relieved after the surgery as Sadie recovered quickly and still had usage of her right shoulder, arm, and hand. We felt disappointed when we learned that the surgery did not accomplish the goal of removing enough of the tumor; the next step would be chemotherapy. Chemo made Sadie very sick. We felt sad and angry that we had to subject our precious baby to such harsh treatment. The whole journey was exhausting.

On the other hand, we quickly learned that approximately 36 children are diagnosed with cancer every day, and we met the most amazing kids who battled cancer with strength and grace. We were encouraged by their tenacity and felt honored to fight alongside them and their supportive families.

How did you brainstorm the idea for the blood drive?

We didn’t! A remarkable group of moms (“Friends of Sadie”) brainstormed and executed the first blood drive on Valentine’s Day of 2010. The seed was planted in November of 2009, when Amy Dozier secured designated donations of a special type of blood to be available to Sadie during her big surgery. She quickly and easily found many people who were willing and able to donate blood. Amy already had a personal interest in promoting blood donation, but I think Sadie’s journey really opened her eyes to the great need for blood products that cancer patients in particular have.

Did the blood drive help you get through the tough time when Sadie was going through treatment?

Absolutely! The timing was perfect; Sadie had just finished a round of chemo and her immune system had recovered enough so that our whole family could attend the first Valentine Blood Drive. That was a long, difficult winter because our region had received record-breaking amounts of snow, coupled with the fact that Sadie was in treatment, our only social outings were to the hospital and the oncology clinic. It was amazing to see how the entire community showed up in support of Sadie (even in all of that snow!). The blood drive afforded us the opportunity to personally thank all of those who had sustained us with prayers, meals, etc. It was a wonderful celebration. Just a few days after the blood drive, we learned that Sadie would have to endure at least two more rounds of chemotherapy. On the heels of such a successful blood drive, that news was easier to take.

How did you feel at the past two blood drives?

Sadie received countless blood transfusions throughout her cancer treatment. We feel blessed that those products were always available to her when she needed them. We want to share Sadie’s story as a way of educating people of the constant need for blood in our community. It is important for us to feel like we are replenishing the blood supply in honor of Sadie.

Although the primary focus is on blood donation, the Valentine Blood Drives also feature childhood cancer education and fundraising; two of our family’s passions. As long as children are being diagnosed with cancer and it is killing them, we must focus on finding a cure. That will take a lot of awareness and money.

I think that anyone who attended either of the first two blood drives would tell you that they felt an amazing sense of community. In this area of hustle and bustle, sometimes it feels like people only look out for themselves; not at the Annual Valentine Blood Drives! Friends and strangers, all neighbors, show up at the community center for a common cause and hundreds of lives are saved. Incredible – that’s how I’ve felt at the past two blood drives.

Would you recommend that kids and parents come to the blood drive this year? Why?

Although the minimum age to donate blood is 16, the Annual Valentine Blood Drive is a family-friendly event. Kids of all ages are encouraged to attend and each one will walk away knowing the exact date s/he will be eligible to donate. Younger kids are entertained with games and Valentine-themed crafts. Older kids can earn volunteer credits by helping out with childcare or the bake sale. Most of all, we encourage children to attend with their parents so they know that their mom and/or dad potentially saved up to three lives with one single blood donation.

I think if people realized that there is no substitute for blood (it can only come from volunteer blood donors), more people would try to donate. Although it may seem a bit scary at first, blood donation is really a quick and painless process.

Sadie Update:

Sadie celebrated her 3rd birthday in July. She is a very busy and curious girl who loves to dance and play with her big sister, Anna. Her current passions are cars, trucks, and trains. Sadie is well known in the medical community for being a cooperative and loving little patient; she’s had a lot of practice during her short 3.5 years.

We have had a number of disease progression scares, but the cancer seems to be in remission and we are most grateful for that. Sadie will forever be monitored for possible effects that the toxic treatments may have had on her long-term health. However, we are encouraged by Sadie’s strength and tenacity as she continues to grow and thrive.

Thank you for helping us honor Sadie through the Annual Valentine Blood Drives! We know firsthand that the gift of life is the gift of hope.

Read more about Sadie’s Story: Read Julie Iriondo’s January 2011 article  published in the Burke Centre Conservator.

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