Because Caitlyn Brown is dependent on blood transfusions, her parents continue to hold drives to replenish the life-sustaining fluid their daughter has used—and then some.
Caitlyn, who turns 16 this month, has Diamond Blackfan Anemia, a rare bone marrow disorder that limits the production of red and white blood cells. Every two to three weeks, she gets two units of blood so she will have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to organs throughout her body.
She’s needed 120 transfusions in the past 6½ years.
Her parents, Debbie and Charlie Brown of Spotsylvania County, have brought almost four times that amount into the system through previous blood drives. Since 2015, the Browns have collected 452 units of blood and registered 139 people on the National Bone Marrow Registry.
“Our goal with these drives is to give back and help other people who also require blood transfusions,” Caitlyn’s mother said. “There are medical conditions where the only treatment is chronic blood transfusions.”
The Browns’ fifth annual blood drive is Jan. 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Chancellor High School, 6300 Harrison Road, in Spotsylvania County. Caitlyn is a freshman at Chancellor, active in the Drama Club and has a part in the school’s spring musical, “Freaky Friday.” She’s also in the SCA, which is hosting the blood drive with the American Red Cross, which supplies all of Caitlyn’s blood products.
Caitlyn has remained cheerful throughout her medical ordeal, and her sunny personality has struck a chord with the community. The turnout for her first blood drive was so overwhelming, the Red Cross couldn’t accommodate the crowd.
Through the RapidPass process, potential blood donors can complete part of the registration online and print the RapidPass or show it to Red Cross officials on their mobile devices the day of the donation.
Walk-in donors also are welcome, and all participants should bring a photo ID.
The Red Cross reminds donors to eat extra iron-rich foods such as fish, poultry, red meat, beans, peas, lentils and iron-fortified cereals, bread and dried fruit in the days before donating. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, broccoli, tomatoes, kiwi, strawberries, peppers, potatoes and cabbage, can increase the absorption of iron.
Donors also should drink more water before giving blood.
Representatives from the Grace Oughton Cancer Foundation will be at the event to help register people for the National Bone Marrow Registry. There’s a new process involved, and onsite registrations can be done for those age 18 to 44 only. Some medical conditions may impact a person’s ability to register, Debbie Brown said.
The Browns also will have a bake sale to raise funds for the Diamond Blackfan Anemia Foundation, which seeks to find a cure for the disorder.
In recent months, Caitlyn’s blood levels have declined, and she has needed more transfusions. Some of her doctors have recommended a bone marrow transplant because of her blood and marrow levels and her compromised immune system, her mother said.
Children’s Hospital of Richmond, where Caitlyn receives treatment, has found a few potential donors in Germany and England, but Caitlyn and her parents “are scared about the prospect,” her mother said, and are waiting to make their final decision on the transplant.
Caitlyn has retained a childlike sweetness as a result of developmental delays, and she continues to enjoy ballet classes and dress-up. For her upcoming birthday, she is planning a Sweet 16 Disney Party.
“She plans to dress up as Belle [from ‘Beauty and the Beast’]” her mother said, “which we feel is so appropriate. Caitlyn loves to read and write stories and is so very brave, just like Belle.”