If one thing was made clear to Trish and Nick Robichaud since the time their three-year-old daughter Brielle was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early January it would be the importance of blood donors.
With September marking Childhood Cancer Awareness month, the Robichauds stepped forward to share their story at the Canadian Blood Services Red Deer clinic last week, encouraging the public to understand the impact blood donation can have to families such as theirs.
A special donating session in honour of Brielle is being held Sept. 23rd at the Red Deer clinic from 3:15 to 7 p.m. Appointments to donate blood can be made by calling 1-888-2-DONATE, online at www.blood.ca or by downloading the Give Blood app.
Their journey began when little Brielle began to complain of headaches. A fever and a significant drop in energy levels followed. The morning the fever started, Trish recalls going into Brielle’s room after hearing her mumble something.
“She looked like her back was bothering her – I picked her up and she was kind of arching her back a bit,” said Trish during an interview with Express co-editor Mark Weber in February. “I could tell it was stiff. She also said her head hurt, so with the fever, I thought she must have meningitis.”
This same day the family journeyed to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary where doctors immediately ordered tests.
It was here doctors would diagnose Brielle with pilomyxoid astrocytoma – a benign tumor blocking the drainage of her cerebral spinal fluid. The tumor, located in the centre of her brain, touches the pituitary gland, her hypothalamus and her optic chasm.
Originally doctors planned to operate the same day, with intent to remove the aggressive and fast growing tumor. However, following the initial six-hour surgery it became apparent it would be too risky of an operation. Eventually some of the tumor was removed, leaving 18 months of chemotherapy to follow.
Jhoanna Del Rosario, territory manager for CBS emphasized the importance of blood donation during Trish and Brielle’s visit last Thursday.
“On average someone with childhood cancer will require around five units of blood – that’s five donors to save that one patient alone – for leukemia, which is the most common form of childhood cancer, we need around eight units of blood a week to save a patient’s life,” explained Del Rosario. “So that is eight donors every week – that’s why we are calling out to the people of Red Deer to rally their friends and family in support of donating blood for those affected by childhood cancer.
“Canadian Blood Services is encouraging Canadians to roll up their sleeves and donate blood for the month of September in honour of all the children affected by childhood cancer as well as those who have passed away.”
Trish explained because the tumor was largely inoperable and with Brielle being too young for radiation, this left only chemotherapy.
So in Brielle’s case chemotherapy knocks down blood counts – it not only affects the tumor by killing it off, but it also kills off red blood cells, hemoglobin, and platelets – all of those very important components of blood, said Trish who added Brielle has had six transfusions after the one she had last month. “Without blood transfusions to keep her counts up, we wouldn’t be able to treat the tumor with chemo.
“Without blood donors we can’t treat childhood cancer, it is absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting childhood cancer.”
Since January, Brielle as had four different surgeries and chemotherapy. The Robichauds have watched as the tumor shrunk more than 60%.
“Before this happened I had donated blood only once – I always thought it was kind of inconvenient and it hurts a little bit, but now that I have watched that blood flow into my daughter’s veins and watched it revive her,” said Brielle’s mom. “When she needs a transfusion she gets pale, exhausted, feverish and just terrible.
“But after we come home from the hospital I have this healthy, rosey, pink-cheeked, pink-lipped kid who has energy and can play again,” she said.
“I just remember sitting at the hospital watching as someone’s A+ blood flowed down the tube into my daughter and I couldn’t help but wonder who it was who took the time to help revive my little girl.”
Canadian Blood Services is looking to fill 775 appointments in the month of September in the Red Deer clinic.
As mentioned, appointments to donate blood can be made by calling 1-888-2-DONATE, online at www.blood.ca