“Imagine your child was in need and someone told you the cupboard was empty”

June 21, 2017

Five years ago, Fiona Hunt was a very sick toddler. At just 15 months old, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) – an aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow - and there was no time to waste. Fiona was admitted to the Hematology & Oncology Program at London Health Sciences Centre’s (LHSC) Children’s Hospital where she immediately underwent chemotherapy. 

In the first month of her treatment, Fiona required 24 bags of blood – amounting to nearly one blood transfusion every day. 

Fiona’s mother, Leah reflects on this time as a game changer when it came to her thoughts on medical care and blood donation in Canada. Previously, Leah says she took for granted that these life-saving resources would be available for those in need of care. Throughout the family’s grueling experience, the importance of blood donation hit home.

“To think that if we were in a different country or at a different time, and a supply of blood was not there, it would have meant Fiona’s demise,” says Leah. “When your child’s life hangs in the balance, I cannot imagine having to wonder if there will be blood available to help her survive treatment. It isn’t something a parent should ever have to worry about. Yet, the reason we didn’t have to think about that was due to the generosity of blood donors.”

Thankfully, the chemotherapy worked and Fiona went into full remission. The Hunts felt like they had dodged a bullet.

Unfortunately, a year after Fiona went into remission, the cancer returned.  In July of 2014, Fiona began intensive treatment to put her into remission before she would be eligible for a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, the treatments worked and Fiona is now cancer free. The Hunts are grateful that Fiona is finally able to enjoy her childhood.

Throughout Fiona’s battle with leukemia, her need for blood and platelets was ongoing. Fiona participated in the Bravery Beads program, which involved collecting beads on a necklace each time a blood or platelets transfusion was required during her treatment. At last count, the number of beads on her necklace surpassed 100. 

Throughout Fiona’s illness, family and friends often asked what they could do to help. Leah’s response was- and still is - to encourage blood donation. While Leah acknowledges that donating blood can be an unpleasant experience for some, she asks people to consider Fiona’s harrowing journey.

“I don’t want to negate the trepidation associated with donating blood, but please think about how frightening it would be for a 15-month-old little girl to spend six months in the hospital,” she says. “To be pinned down for dressing changes, to have tubes inserted in her body, to have very little understanding of what’s happening.”

Leah also makes donating blood a priority for herself. “I genuinely believe that unless you are unable to give, donating blood is your responsibility as a member of our community.”

Through sharing their story, the Hunts hope to continue to motivate people to donate blood.

“It’s my hope that we can take our experience as a family and inspire a blood donation,” explains Leah. 

Fiona has a simple message for the donors who enabled her to courageously battle leukemia: “thank you for helping me,” she says with a grin.

Donate blood throughout the month of June to help patients like Fiona

Throughout the month of June, LHSC’s staff, physicians and volunteers are encouraged to roll up their sleeves and donate blood. LHSC often has greater need for blood products as nearly 40 per cent of all major traumas present to LHSC between the Victoria Day long weekend and Labour Day long weekend. Additionally, the need for blood is high throughout the summer months when regular donors are on vacation. Donating now will help to ensure a steady supply of blood is available for patients like Fiona.

Information, including booking appointments and mobile clinic locations, can be found on blood.ca.