Mother, daughter encourage blood donations as teen fights cancer

Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 2:20 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The American Red Cross continues to face the worst blood shortage in over a decade. And the impact is being felt directly by Richmond area families.

Caroline Dunn helped us paint a picture of what that looks like. The teenager spends her free time creating art and also happens to be fighting cancer.

“I like to do a lot of watercolor, but I typically end up drawing in a lot of ballpoint pens.”

The 15-year-old knows the details matter.

“I got my first sketchbook in the second grade and I’ve been filling them out cover to cover ... I have 24 up in my closet,” said Caroline Dunn, a Cancer Fighter and Blood Donation Advocate.

She hopes to show that art professionally one day. But like most kids these days, Caroline’s world took a turn when COVID hit. School looked different as classes turned to virtual learning.

And then, so did Caroline’s health.

“Eventually the symptoms went from just a feeling of something’s wrong to us. It started to get more physical. Like, I noticed the bruising and I noticed that no matter how much I slept, it never felt like enough,” said Caroline Dunn.

The diagnosis: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Two hours later, they sent me into surgery to have a port placed.”

Rounds and rounds of chemo - deadly chemicals - and then a rescue med to save her life. Side effects included extreme fatigue.

“Oh, I definitely did not feel at my best,” said Caroline. “I felt the best way to describe is crummy. I just felt really, really crummy ... I wish there was something that I could do about it.”

The hard part is there is something that could be done about it. Blood transfusions refuel patients like Caroline, giving them energy, recovery and relief. And in almost any other circumstance, it would be considered medically necessary.

But right now there is a blood shortage - a critically low shortage.

Caroline’s been refused transfusions twice. Once because there were just about two dozen bags of blood in the whole hospital.

“They were saving those blood products for people who were trauma patients who were actively hemorrhaging,” said Elizabeth Dunn, Caroline’s mother. “Not someone like Caroline who was able to sustain life, but someone who was in an emergency, which is totally understandable. But it was disturbing and heartbreaking, and I knew that I was not the only mother who is experiencing that stress.”

It was at that moment of suffering that the mother and daughter saw a bigger picture and purpose.

“I believe that blood products should be like air and that everybody deserves to have them,” said Caroline’s mother.

Now, they are starting conversations about giving blood - not just for Caroline, but to save any life in need.

“We are asking for everyone to donate because we truly do believe that when you feel the bank up, everyone will receive what they need,” said Elizabeth Dunn.

Including Caroline. The simple gift of blood brings another chance to heal, to fight, to feel stronger. And fill notebooks with sketches.

Find a blood drive in your area here.

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