Giving a Pint-Sized Patient a Big Boost in Vancouver

June 8, 2018 at 8:58 am

Author’s Note: Your share how giving and receiving blood changes your life through many different avenues: on social media, via email and in person. This particular story came about in a more unusual way—through a partnership with Einstein Bros. Bagels. As you might have heard, every Sunday morning we provide free Einstein Bros. egg bagel sandwiches at select Bloodworks Donor Centers. It just so happened that our Einstein Bros. catering liaison, Ben Lepley, has a young son who relies on blood transfusions. Until our Brunch on Bloodworks partnership, Ben had no idea Bloodworks donors supply that lifesaving blood. This is his family’s story.  

For Ben Lepley from La Center, Washington, the scariest part was not knowing what was wrong. His then one-year-old son Frank—a cheerful toddler with feathery blond hair and wide blue eyes—had become lethargic, his face a sick yellowish tinge.

It seemed serious enough that Ben and his wife Nikola drove Frank to Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington for a medical examination. “The doctor told us ‘I don’t know what this is. We’ll figure it out but I need you guys to be prepared for news,’” Ben said. “It’s like one of those things you see on TV—they were talking about leukemia, or some of these super scary diseases.”

It wasn’t leukemia, but there was still cause for concern. Frank was diagnosed hemolytic anemia, a rare blood disorder that makes his oxygen-carrying red blood cells self-destruct before their normal lifespan is over. As a result, his heart has to work much harder to spread oxygen through his body, leading to exhaustion, loss of appetite and that tell-tale jaundice facial coloring.

To the Lepley family’s great relief, they learned Frank’s condition was manageable thanks to one key ingredient: blood from local Bloodworks donors. Each month, Nikola takes Frank to Legacy Medical Center for an oxygen level check-up. When his oxygen invariably registers too low, nurses inject a child-sized bag of red blood cells into his tiny arm.

Frank with his sisters Sam (left) and Ana (right).

According to Ben, the effect is almost immediately perceptible. “It makes a huge difference,” he said. “He goes from yellow and lethargic and not wanting to eat to coming home and eating a ton. His color comes back.” While Ben admits Frank is unlikely to ever to bounce off the walls with energy, he notices blood transfusions help bring out his now two-year-old’s joyful, humorous side.

Hemolytic anemia is a challenge, but Ben said he’s grateful for a supportive medical team and generous local blood donors who give Frank a chance at a normal life. “Blood donations support the lives of all sizes of people for all different reasons. It’s impacted my life way more than I ever thought it would.” And that’s one thing he knows for sure.

You can make a difference in the lives of local children like Frank. Sign up to give blood at a Bloodworks location near you, or learn more about our Brunch on Bloodworks Sunday program at our North & Central Seattle, Bellevue, Lynnwood, Tukwila and Federal Way donor centers.