Mother uses hashtag to push blood donation for daughter’s cancer treatment
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Ava Thomas is like most 4-year-olds, always on the move, always dancing, and seemingly always happy.
“I like playing,” Ava said. “It’s cause it’s so fun outside!
But lately, Ava spends much of her time down and out in a hospital bed, undergoing treatment for a rare form of brain cancer.
“The chemotherapy will just deplete her immune system,” Ava’s mother, Kassi Thomas, said. “It drops all her white blood cells and her red blood cells to zero or close to it.”
Unfortunately, Kassi says her battle with brain cancer and her chemotherapy treatment isn’t the only fight her daughter faces.
“Kids like Ava strongly depend on these blood transfusions and platelet transfusions. It goes hand in hand with their treatment,” Kassi said.
Unfortunately, according to the Red Cross, blood is still in short supply nationwide. The organization says there has been a 10% drop in overall blood donations since March 2020 and a 62% drop in college and high school blood drives due to the pandemic.
The Red Cross says additional factors like a surge of COVID-19 cases and an active flu season could still exacerbate the shortage.
“We’re just at the point where maybe we don’t have to say, ‘we’re in a crisis,’ but we are still in an area where our supply is low and vulnerable to potentially fall right back into another blood crisis,” said Red Cross spokesperson Kristopher Dumschat.
The shortage is so critical that sometimes patients, just like Ava, risk being turned away from their scheduled transfusion appointments when they need blood most.
“They’ll decide what level she has to get to before they decide to do the transfusion, and sometimes, they’ll wait for a dangerous level that I don’t feel comfortable with because there is such a shortage,” Kassi said. “Sometimes it just gets to a level that I really don’t feel comfortable with, and if there wasn’t such a shortage, I don’t think they would let it get that low.”
“Every two seconds, someone needs blood,” Dumschat said. “It’s important as our role as the Red Cross to collect as many blood products as possible to make sure no one is delayed in getting the healthcare they need and the life-saving products they need.”
Inspired by the shortage, it was during one of Ava’s transfusions that Kassi decided to raise awareness for Ava and patients, young and old, just like her.
“I was looking at her, and a name just kind of hit me,” Kassi reflected. “I started a movement #ArmsForAva to try to encourage people to get out and do these blood donations to save kids like Ava.”
For weeks now, Kassi has watched that hashtag blossom on social media as dozens of people donated for the first time in Ava’s honor.
In February a blood drive was put together in Ava’s Chesterfield neighborhood where nearly 40 people donated blood.
“38 donors came out which was really exciting and it was all just dedicated in her honor and we have another one coming up in Virginia Beach on April 15th and that’s completely in her honor too,” Kassi said. “It’s just really humbling and really exciting to know that people are coming out in support of Ava and also, in turn, saving so many lives of kids like Ava who absolutely need these donations.”
“So far, I’ve donated twice and then also done platelets in the past three months,” Ava’s father Brian said.
Kassi has also recently rolled up her sleeves to give blood, and Ava says she notices.
“It really helps my day get better,” Ava said. “If I didn’t get a blood transfusion, I wouldn’t be able to finish my treatment.”
Now, Kassi is hoping this hashtag won’t just stop with Ava.
“We have the ability to make this change,” Kassi said. “And hopefully, that spreads awareness for other people going out, and that starts a chain reaction.”
If you want to support Ava, you can donate to her online fundraiser and you can use the hashtag #ArmsForAva when giving blood or platelets. You can schedule an appointment with the Virginia Red Cross HERE.
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