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Blood Donor Clinic honours Beeton girl, anniversary of remission from leukemia

May 3, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Wendy Gabrek

Sarah Hamby, a ten-year-old girl from Beeton, has battled leukemia three times over the course of her young life and is now celebrating one year of remission. 

The honoured guest at a recent Tottenham Blood Donor Clinic, Sarah was on hand with her mom, dad, big sister and grandmother to celebrate the milestone, and thank people for giving – although she herself will never be eligible to donate blood due to her medical history. 

Cancer patients like Sarah often require blood products as part of their treatment. As such, Sarah’s parents, Mark and Gillian Hamby, are grateful for blood donors who have contributed to more than 100 blood transfusions and blood products for Sarah over the years. 

When Sarah, a Grade 5 student at Tecumseth Beeton Public School, relapsed the second time, she told her doctor, “I am going to be a three-time survivor.” 

“Sarah had her second relapse in February 2018. This relapse came 13 months after she received a bone marrow transplant. This time her doctors thought her best treatment option would be CAR-T cell therapy. She was one of the first children to receive this therapy at Sick Kids,” Sarah’s mom, Gillian, told The Times. “Sick Kids previously had to send their patients to Philadelphia to receive this treatment, but starting in early 2018, the treatment became available at Sick Kids, so we were very lucky to receive this treatment so close to home.”

With CAR-T therapy, Sarah’s T cells were removed from her blood, modified in a lab, and then put back inside her. 

“Her T cells have targeted her B cells, which was where her cancer was,” Gillian explains. “Since she no longer has any B cells, she needs to receive an immunoglobulin infusion every week, otherwise known as blood products, to help protect her immune system. She received her T cells back on April 19, 2018. She will need to receive an immunoglobulin infusion every week until her B cells return. There is no way of knowing when that will happen.”

Bright, funny and full of life, Sarah told The Times she is glad to feel better, and is happy she can “do more stuff”.

“I wasn’t allowed to do almost anything,” Sarah said. “I also couldn’t eat what I liked – except Tim Hortons because it’s ‘Always Fresh’. Now, I can eat my favorite foods all of the time – homemade chicken teriyaki and chicken fingers and fries.”

Her mom Gillian remembers things a little differently.

“Sarah’s outlook has always been to play and have fun. Even in the hospital she found ways to play. I often had to chase her down the hall in the hospital pushing her IV pole,” said Gillian. “Today, Sarah likes to sing in a choir and go for bike rides with her dad and play with Lego.”

The support for Sarah in New Tecumseth is undeniable.

“What a great turnout we had last night at Sarah’s blood drive!,” said Elaine St. Pierre, Territory Manager, Canadian Blood Services – Barrie, Muskoka, Simcoe, Dufferin & Grey. “Our goal for the event was to collect 77 blood donations. We had 106 people attend and we collected 92 donations.   Since we just had a long weekend, those extra units will help to ensure we meet hospital demand in the coming days so we are very thankful to the Hamby family for adopting this clinic in Sarah’s honour and helping to recruit donors.”

Canadian Blood Services operates blood donation events in Tottenham and Alliston on a regular basis – monthly in Tottenham and every other month in Alliston.  

Over the last year, these events have combined to collect 1,636 blood donations, or enough blood to help 205 patients with leukemia for one week.

“New Tecumseth has always been a supportive donor base for Canadian Blood Services and we rely on their donations to ensure the national supply meets demand and supports patients’ needs,” said St. Pierre. “The need never stops, regardless of holidays – in fact, sometimes the need can be greater over long weekends when situations like car accidents can increase with extra traffic on the roads. It can take up to 50 donors to help someone in a car crash.”

“It’s also imperative that we are continuously attracting new donors to join Canada’s Lifeline,” added St. Pierre. “New donors are the future of Canada’s blood system.”

Last year in New Tecumseth, seven per cent of collections came from first time donors.  

“We need that rate to be about eleven per cent so if you’ve always thought about donating, perhaps now is the time to give it a try!”

Making an appointment to donate has never been easier.  To book an appointment, locate a donation event, check your eligibility, and more, download our GiveBlood app, call 1 888 2 DONATE (1 888 236-6283) or visit www.blood.ca


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