Blood Transfusions Give Emma “A Fighting Chance” Against Cancer

Local mother Holly Gooch understands why blood donation is so important, because she’s seen it firsthand.

In February of 2020, Holly’s young daughter Emma began complaining about a sore throat—a not uncommon ailment in the winter months. But something about the persistence of Emma’s symptoms signaled to Holly that something wasn’t quite right.

“We visited the pediatrician several times over the next two weeks due to no improvement,” she recalls. “The final visit, I requested a blood test.”

Holly could not have known that this sore throat was about to completely upend their lives.

“On March 6, 2020, I received a call from the pediatrician that there was a possibility that Emma had leukemia and we needed to take her to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where a team of specialist were awaiting our arrival,” Holly says. “After additional tests were performed, we received Emma's official diagnosis. Emma had Acute Myeloid Leukemia.”

Emma smiling in hospital bed

Acute myeloid leukemia (or AML) is a type of blood cancer that originates in the bone marrow, and typically progresses quickly if it isn’t detected and treated early. With acute types of leukemia such as AML, bone marrow cells don't grow the way they're supposed to. These immature cells, called blasts, build up in the body, and as a result, the number of healthy blood cells (red cells, white cells and platelets) is usually lower than normal.

Early detection and treatment of AML is critical, and fortunately, “Emma was admitted to the hospital and started treatment right away,” beginning with a round of chemotherapy.

AML is often aggressive and difficult to treat, which was the case with Emma’s diagnosis. “After Emma's first round of chemotherapy, we learned she was not in remission and that her treatment plan was going to change,” Holly recalls. “Her new treatment plan now included a bone marrow transplant.” 

A bone marrow transplant can be an effective treatment for AML, as it replaces the unhealthy blood-forming cells (stem cells) with healthy ones. For some people, transplant can cure their disease. But the process of undergoing a bone marrow transplant is grueling.

“Emma had a total of three rounds of aggressive chemotherapy,” says Holly. “The chemotherapy treatment Emma received was very intense, so much so that she was hospitalized for 28 to 41 days each round of treatment with a short week break in-between.”

While chemotherapy can be useful in fighting cancer cells, it also kills healthy cells in the body, including precious blood cells.

“During each round of chemotherapy, Emma's blood counts would drop,” Holly says. “When her counts would drop too low and put her life at risk, she would require blood and platelet transfusions.”

It was during this time that Holly realized her daughter’s survival was reliant on blood donations—and volunteer blood donors.

“Blood and platelet transfusions have been a crucial part of Emma's ongoing treatment,” Holly says. “Emma is currently hospitalized while recovering from her bone marrow transplant on July 20, 2020. During her recovery, she has required several blood and platelet transfusions, and post-transplant she has also received IVIg (intravenous immunoglobulin) to help prevent against infection and Graft vs. Host Disease.  Without these blood product transfusions, our little Emma would not be able to have this fighting chance at life!”

“We will be forever grateful for the strangers who took the time to donate blood to save our little Emma's life,” Holly finishes. “We strongly encourage others to take the time to donate blood. Your donation can save someone's life.”