Sadie Lauer’s Neuroblastoma is in remission. She still has a tumor, buried near the top of her lungs, however it has no active cancer cells. Aside from “late effects” of her chemotherapy treatment, Sadie is a happy, healthy 5-and-a-half-year-old girl.
But when Sadie was first diagnosed at three months old, she needed surgery and chemo to remove and combat the life-threatening mass in her neck. To go along with those procedures, she desperately needed blood products.
That was in early 2010, amid one of the worst winter storms to hit the area in years. Friends and neighbors of the Lauer family came together to donate blood for Sadie. Seven mothers, the “Friends of Sadie,” were able to get enough donors together to more than provide for Sadie in the operating room.
The only day the hospital was available to accommodate the group was Valentine’s Day.
“We saw how relatively easy it was to do that, to restock the shelves,” said Amy Dozier of Burke, one of the seven mothers. “That’s how we got this started.”
THE GROUP decided to host a sequel blood drive the following year, also around Valentine’s Day, a time of the year when blood donations are typically lean.
Dozier said they were told to expect a drop off in participation, that drives “with a face” typically don’t fare as well the second time around. The “Friends of Sadie” expected their community would respond better.
“We live in a community that is so transient and yet we cling to one another in good times and bad times,” said Dozier. “We wanted to do something as big as we could. A lot of times a casserole just isn’t going to cut it.”
Though Sadie’s cancer went into remission, the blood drive bearing her name continued and grew, year after year. The “Friends of Sadie” group became more mission-oriented, working to not only rally donors once a year, but also educating families about blood donation and challenges facing childhood cancer.
“A lot of children have been treated for one cancer and as a result come up with another cancer because it’s so toxic,” said Erin Lauer, Sadie’s mother, of the chemotherapy and radiation options for kids. “We’re pushing for awareness and funding for less toxic and more effective treatments.”
The Friends of Sadie will be donating funds raised at the blood drive bake sale to The Truth 365, an organization using documentary and social media to help children with cancer.
“Sadie will always be our face, a to die for face, such an exuberant and lovely child,” Dozier said. “We’re riding on her coattails of cuteness as we spread the word.”
Lauer said, “It’s not about us anymore. It’s taken on a whole personality and urgency of its own, like no other community thing I’ve experienced in Burke.”
Where and When
The sixth annual Friends of Sadie Valentine Blood Drive will take place Sunday, Feb. 8 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Woods Community Center, 10100 Wards Grove Circle, Burke. For more information, visit www.friendsofsadi.... Interested donors can get prescreened at www.inova.org/don... or by calling 1-866-256-6372. Appointments to donate are available through the Inova online scheduling system by selecting Friends of Sadie and using the sponsor code 7637. This year, an additional blood drive in honor of Sadie will take place at the Burke Racquet & Swim Club March 14. For more information on that event, call 703-250-1299.
Blood has a shelf life of just 42 days and must be donated by humans -- there’s no substitute.
“One of the misconceptions is that it’s readily available, that it just appears whenever people need it,” said Frances Holley, assistant director of IT, donor recruitment and support services for Inova Blood Donor Services.
Inova supplies blood to 23 hospitals throughout the greater Washington, D.C. metro area. To have an adequate supply of blood products (blood, plasma and platelets), they need 200 units (about a pint) of blood every day.
Depending on their illness or injury, Holley said, a single patient can require anywhere from one or two units up to 200. Pediatric cancer patients will use multiple blood products over a more extended period of time.
So blood remains a highly sought after commodity.
“People don’t realize about 38 percent of the population nationwide is eligible,” said Holley, “and less than 5 percent of that group actually donate.”
THAT ELIGIBLE POPULATION includes people as young as 16. Reaching out to high school students and developing a more fun, family-oriented drive has been pivotal as the Friends of Sadie drive grew. To facilitate adults with children in tow, they run a play area so parents can bring them along to be a part of the atmosphere.
“We want to raise children so they don’t grow up saying, ‘Eww, blood drive,’” said Dozier. “We try to make it a fun event, a part of everyday life, and show that it’s a great, easy thing to do.”
Dozier’s daughter Madeline and neighbor Andrew Letzkus will each be donating at Sadie’s drive for the first time. Madeline is a sophomore, Letzkus a senior, both at Robinson Secondary School.
“I’ve watched people donate for so many years,” said Madeline. “It looks painless and just seems like an easy way to give back to people.”
Letzkus’ mother Carole is another one of the seven mothers in the Friends of Sadie.
“It’s going to be a great experience for me,” he said. “I’ve seen this whole event grow. It’s so cool, to see the amount of blood we’ve had donated.”
According to Holley, the drive brought in 245 units of blood products in 2014, 204 in 2013 and 202 in 2012.
But, Dozier said, “We’re not about breaking records, just putting as much blood on the shelves as possible.”