Last year I learned of an extraordinary young boy from Long Island, Brandon VonBargen. Brandon, then a third-grader at Bayville School, was diagnosed in January with APML, a form of leukemia. This happy, caring 9-year-old required multiple transfusions of red blood cells, platelets and plasma during his initial phase of treatment. His family has attacked this illness with a positive attitude, and Brandon has demonstrated the will of a warrior. I couldn’t have been happier to learn last week that Brandon, now a 10-year-old fourth-grader, is in remission.
Every day across Long Island, and across the country, people like Brandon rely on blood products for survival. More specifically, according to the National Cancer Institute, more than 15,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year. Childhood cancer patients may need blood products on a regular basis during chemotherapy, surgery or treatment for complications. Blood products can also help prevent life-threatening bleeding.
But the only source of blood and platelets for patients is volunteer donors. That’s why any disruptions to donations can lead to an emergency need.
Unfortunately, as we often see at this time of year, we now find ourselves in the midst of such an emergency. A blood donation shortfall over the winter holidays has prompted the American Red Cross to issue an emergency call for blood platelet donors to give now to prevent a blood shortage from continuing throughout the winter.
Many people may not realize that blood products — which are needed every day for accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease — are perishable. When donations decline — as they did recently, and may do so further if winter weather becomes more severe and flu season worsens — lifesaving medical treatments could be delayed.