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Blood benefactor is giving back
by MATTHEW NASH
Putting your life on hold isn’t easy, especially for a 21-year-old.
KatieRose Needham, of Sequim, a self-described healthy, happy-go-lucky college student, found herself in a situation she never imagined.
On Oct. 5, 2010, Needham was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a rare condition in which bone marrow does not create enough blood cells.
Needham said she’s on the right track now with the condition and is promoting a blood drive on June 1 at the Sequim Seventh-day Adventist Church. She wants more people to know how important blood donation is to potential patients like her who might find out overnight they are in need.
Needham’s symptoms were progressive as she and her mom, Chris, noticed a change last summer. She was losing energy, looked pale and bruised easily. Her full-time job in the dining room at the Fifth Avenue Retirement Center became more difficult, too.
“I’d go to deliver a tray upstairs and be out of breath,” she said.
Chris, the center’s housekeeping supervisor, became concerned and encouraged her daughter to go to the Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness Clinic.
“I thought she just needed iron vitamins,” Chris said.
The doctor tested Need-ham and found her blood count was low. Needham said an average person has about 140,000 platelets. She had 12,000.
“I felt sick but I didn’t feel something was wrong,” Needham said.
That night she received two units of blood but the next day her white blood cells remained low.
“At that point, I’d never heard anemia spoken,” she said. “Doctors told me this is very serious and I could die. Luckily, I never got sick or infections.”
Needham’s treatment involved mild chemotherapy at Olympic Medical Cancer Center in Sequim, anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) and an ongoing 300 mg regimen of ciclosporin, an immunosuppressant drug that she says makes her bones ache.
She said the ATG procedure made her really sick but it was to shock her system back to normal.
“My blood realized what was going on and started creating cells,” Needham said.
At the cancer center, she spoke with her doctor about a bone marrow transplant. Needham said it wouldn’t be a cure but would make life more livable. It’s risky, too, with a 40-percent death rate, she said.
Help from afar
Needham decided against a transplant, but the option is available because a perfect donor was found. Doctors told her there are 10 criteria and for a good donation six criteria must be met but her anonymous donor was 10 out of 10.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “Just to know if I need one, it’s there. But the hope is I’ll never need it.”
Needham said finding a donor was a miracle because she was adopted from Belize at 6 weeks old and her odds of finding a match were next to none.
Chris said she and her husband, David, always wanted to adopt, but until hearing about their daughter, they were ready to be content with two children of their own.
She said the night they decided this, they received a phone call from Belize about an available 5-day-old baby.
“Our firm plans went out the window,” Chris said.
David flew down later to pick up the 6-week old baby.
Chris said promoting the blood drive is one way her family chose to give back.
“Until you get into a situation like this, you never think about donating blood,” she said. “No one knows they were donating to an incredible KatieRose but they did.”
Since February, Needham said, she’s been getting progressively better.
Her intent is to take more general courses at Peninsula College before transferring to become a blood technician. She started back at work twice a week in March and now goes for three hours, three days a week.
“It’s a process,” Needham said. “I’m slowly getting strength. It’s just getting better and from being so sick to on the mend is great.”
Needham said she continues to listen to music and spend time with her King Charles Cavalier, Little Betsy, but wants to enjoy her other hobbies of riding her long board, hiking and going to the beach more.
Chris said it took her daughter several months to smile and crack jokes again despite having an optimistic attitude about treatment.
Needham said her plan is go one day at a time.
“It’s a lifelong condition and in two or five or 25 years it could come back,” she said.
“I just want people to realize how important it is to give blood because it really did save my life that day.”
The blood drive runs 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, at Sequim Seventh-day Adventist Church, 30 Sanford Lane. No appointments are needed. Call 683-7373 with questions.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.