Julia Gardner

Newlywed relied on platelet donors to survive cancer treatment

The weeks and months after a wedding are typically filled with the simple blisses of newlyweds: Relishing a honeymoon trip, decorating a shared home, writing thank you notes for wedding gifts.

For Julia Gardner, the first few months of marriage were a little different. She and her husband Michael, who currently live in Cedarville, had been married for just a few weeks when she was diagnosed with leukemia.

"I was 21 when I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, just 6 weeks after our wedding," says Julia, who is attending pharmacy school at Cedarville University. "I was only symptomatic for one week before my official diagnosis."

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. These immature cells inhibit the production of normal, functioning blood cells that are critical for bringing oxygen to organs, healing wounds, and fighting infections.

Julia Gardner and her husband

This type of cancer is most common in children, but is known to affect adults, too. In Julia's case, these immature lymphocytes that overcrowded her system caused symptoms like fatigue, fevers, and night sweats. "The issue that made me feel the worst, though, was my anemia," she recalls. "My Hgb (hemoglobin, an iron-carrying protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to organs and tissues) was 7.0 when I got to Cincinnati Children's, which is about half the normal amount of Hgb. I was dizzy, pale, short of breath, and overall weak and tired."

Julia's diagnosis was a whirlwind, but she began chemotherapy treatment almost immediately at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, a renowned hospital located right around the corner from Hoxworth's Central location. One of the first actions her physicians took was to transfuse Julia with donated blood.

"The first part of my treatment was a blood transfusion," she says. "Each time I received a blood transfusion, it was like I was a new person. Going from feeling very poor to getting refueled feels incredible and makes a big difference."

Donated blood and platelets have been crucial to Julia's ongoing treatment--chemotherapy can target the cancer but often harms healthy cells in the process. Thanks to regular transfusions, Julia has made it through two years of grueling chemotherapy. Today, she is doing better and is almost finished with treatment.

"I've had 41 transfusions in the last two years, and a lot of those were life saving," she says. "My platelets have been as low as 10,000, which is about 2% of normal. After a platelet transfusion, my bruises start to heal within a few days. It's incredible!"

Julia was never able to donate blood before her diagnosis, but being the recipient of so many transfusions, she is now an advocate of blood donation.

"Living with Leukemia, a cancer of blood, where chemotherapy targets the bone marrow which makes blood, means that our blood is destroyed and compromised," she says. "We need blood often! And we're so appreciative of everyone who donates."

It was her experience with leukemia and receiving blood that spurred Julia and her family to host blood drives with Hoxworth Blood Center and Community Blood Center in Dayton, OH. Over the course of four different drives, Julia was able to recruit over 100 blood donors, using her experience as motivation.

"I explained to my friends and family that I've needed blood to stay alive," she recalls. "I told them, wouldn't you like to save lives with a simple donation?"

Having her friends and family donate and helps patients like her was rewarding, Julia notes. But the donors who saved her life--strangers who selflessly took the time to give--will always be special to her.

"I would love to hug their necks!" Julia says. "There were so many blood transfusions that I needed in order to feel up to standing up, and I also needed platelets in order to not bleed internally. They saved my life, and I'll forever be grateful!"