by Sai Rayala, Communications and Marketing Volunteer
Every 15 seconds, someone needs platelets. For millions of Americans, they are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases, and traumatic injuries. One of these people was five-year-old Emery Twehues. Without platelet donations, Emery never would have been able to get the chemotherapy needed to survive her cancer.
Emery is a happy and energetic five-year-old. She loves to sing, dress-up, and do ballet – normal things for many kids of her age. Emery has also had to deal with some tough stuff that not all her peers face. Emery was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in April of 2018. Currently she is in the maintenance phase of her chemotherapy, which is the last and longest phase of chemotherapy.
It is also the least intense phase. Emery’s hair is growing back, and she is able to return to school again. Emery’s mother, Morgan, says that the family is able to return to a normal routine again.
It wasn’t always like this. From April of 2018 to January of 2019, Emery received intense chemotherapy. During this time, Morgan recalls her and her husband being very worried for Emery. “It was just like terror every day, just afraid every day,” Morgan says.
ALL is cancer of the white blood cells. When Emery got chemotherapy, it was wiping out the cancerous white blood cells, but it was also wiping out all the blood cells, including the healthy ones; therefore, Emery’s blood had to be supplemented with healthy blood cells.
“Thank God we can supplement her blood and supplement her platelets, because the treatment would not be viable,” Morgan says. “This chemo gives her a cure rate, it gives her a cure… She never would have been able to withstand that without blood and platelet products.”
Among all the blood products that Emery received, the need for platelets was the most serious. Platelets are tiny particles in the blood that aid clotting. They can control bleeding in patients with leukemia or undergoing chemotherapy. Platelets have a shelf life of just five days, so they must be used quickly after donation.
Morgan says that Emery needed a lot more platelets than blood just because of the nature of platelets and the fact that heir lifespan is shorter. “Your platelets in your blood circulation normally last around 10 days. But when Emery was getting platelets, she needed transfusions about every other day,” Morgan says. “By the time the platelets were getting to her, by the time they were stored, shelved, and processed, they become more fragile and (didn’t) last as long.”
Despite her frequent platelet transfusions, Emery’s platelet counts were still low at times. “There were several times when her platelets were below 10, and when you have a platelet count below 10, it means you can spontaneously bleed at any time…” Morgan says. “She would have bruises all over her body…and that’s just because she didn’t have any platelets.”
Morgan says that she regards platelet donors as “heroes” because although the platelet donations are more intense than a regular blood donation, the need for platelets is very high. “Someone who truly needs platelets need a lot of platelets,” Morgan says. “The need is just really serious.”
With ALL having a cure rate of 85 percent and Emery being in her last stage of chemotherapy, Emery’s family believes that they are “past the worst of it,” yet Morgan still remembers how crucial platelet donations were for Emery in the past year, and she encourages others around her to donate them.
“There were a lot of people that wanted to help us but didn’t know how, and so I expressed very early on that I wanted everyone to donate blood because I felt a real need to replenish the stores that we were using,” Morgan says. “I wanted people who love Emery to understand the importance of blood donation…”
Every two seconds in the United States, blood is needed to respond to patient emergencies, including accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patient, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease. The American Red Cross must collect about 7,000 unites of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma every day to meet the demand for these products. Given the short lifespan of platelets, platelet shortages happen frequently. Platelet donors are urgently needed to avoid delays in lifesaving medical care for patients.
Emery’s mother recalls the transformation she saw in Emery after getting the blood she needed. “She would be really pale, and she would get that blood and she would get rosy cheeks,” Morgan says. “It is almost like she would come to life again…”
If you would like to donate platelets, download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit our blood donation website , or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to make an appointment.