By Carol Lawson-Swezey, Reporter
When three-year-old Parker Fritsch was diagnosed with Philadelphia Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2002, he was given a survival rate of less than 20%.
“We were told to enjoy the two to three years that we might get with him,” said his mom Melissa Fritsch, a Clark Intermediate School art teacher. “We tried an experimental drug that had never been given to children before, and they thought it could possibly cure him.”
After an uphill struggle which included experimental drug therapy and a bone marrow transplant, Parker is now in remission and enjoying his sophomore year at Buchanan High School. He is on the golf team, mock trial team, in band, and is a member of the National Honors Society.
Although he was diagnosed with a secondary cancer in 2009 which has been held in check, Parker has not forgotten his fight and has worked tirelessly, since age 4, to fundraise and bring awareness to blood and bone marrow donations as well as other children’s cancer charities.
The family has never forgotten that it was transfusions which kept Parker alive and the bone marrow transplant which helped save his life.
“The transfusions, too many to count, kept him alive,” Melissa Fritsch said. “During the bone marrow transplant, his blood type changed from a super common one to a very rare one. I was always praying that they would have enough of his blood type. We used a donated umbilical cord for Parker’s transplant. We are forever thankful to the family that donated that umbilical cord that ultimately saved his life. I’m not even sure that they know that it was used. If I could thank them, I would tell them that they are angels, and that I only have my boy today because of their life saving donation.”
His mom said that Parker is doing fine.
“He has not needed any transfusions since he was five, but he has made it his mission to help keep the blood bank full, for all the other children out at Valley Children’s Hospital that are currently fighting for their lives,” she said.
Parker’s blood drive, aptly named “Helping Parker’s Pals” has been held every December for 12 years. Over 6,300 donors have given over the years.
“Many people stopped during their busy schedules to give blood when Parker was fighting for his life.” Melissa said. “We can never thank them enough. Now that he’s healthy, it is our chance to give back to the community that gave to us in our time of need.”
“Everything I do for my community has a purpose, and the Parker’s Pals Blood Drive to me has probably created the most impact on my community,” Parker said. “When I was diagnosed at age 3, this community gave me and my family so much love and support that once I grew a little older and understood what the people in this town did for me I wanted to strive to pay off my debt to them. But truly, I am indebted to them forever. I am just a teenage boy who knows what was given to him in his time of need, and now is going to strive to give back to his community, and show that he is grateful for everything they did for me when I was in the darkest part of my life.”
Melissa Fritsch said that blood contributions were lower this year at Parker’s drive and the blood center still needs major donations to keep up with the community’s demand.
In recent weeks, because of additional needs to treat trauma patients, the blood center (CCBC) has said their blood supply has dipped to less than 39 percent. The need for donors is critical, especially for O-Negative blood, which is considered the universal donor blood, and has dropped below nine percent in supply.
“The winter months are a challenge for blood centers across the country, and certainly no exception here in the Central Valley. The shorter days, colder weather, rain and the cold and flu season all keep donors from giving blood. Unfortunately, often the demand for blood rises during those months due to increased holiday travel, fog and rain related accidents,” said Rob Walker, communications coordinator for the CCBC.
Walker said there are many reasons people give for not giving blood, including that they weren’t asked, or for health reasons like high blood pressure, diabetes, allergies, previous cancer, epilepsy or medications. Walker said most of those issues don’t disqualify individuals from being donors.
Almost anyone can donate blood if they are in good general health, 17 years old (or 16 with written parental consent) and weigh at least 110 pounds. Seniors are always welcome, as there is no upper age limit for blood donation.
For those afraid of needles, Walker stresses that “blood donation is a momentary discomfort for the donor which can provide a lifetime of a difference for the patient.”
The Central California Blood Center is the sole provider of blood and blood products for the 31 hospitals in Fresno, Tulare, Madera, Kings and Mariposa counties and must collect between 5,000 to 6,000 pints of blood a month to meet the needs of the Valley.
The need for consistent donors and donations is year round, said Walker.
“Summer months are also difficult as well when donors are on vacation, or busy doing other things and don’t think to come to the blood center,” Walker said. “Of course, when people are traveling and enjoying recreation, more accidents tend to happen. Many of those accidents end with patients in the trauma centers, and the CCBC has been providing blood and blood products for the trauma centers in the 30 hospitals and five counties we serve for over 60 years.”
Walker shared these statistics:
- The number of blood donations collected in the U.S. in a year: 15.7 million
- The number of blood donors in the U.S. in a year: 9.2 million
- Although an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, less than 10% actually do each year.
- Blood cannot be manufactured – it can only come from generous donors.
- Type O negative blood (red cells) can be transfused to patients of all blood types. It is always in great demand and often in short supply.
- Type AB positive plasma can be transfused to patients of all other blood types. AB plasma is also usually in short supply.
There are four blood centers in the Central Valley, and mobile blood drives across the five county area with some large drives including “Parker’s Pals” and the Matt Mueller Blood Drive at Buchanan High School, which will be held February 11.
Walker said that donating blood is the one gift that only you can give and you can become a hero for doing it.
“The blood you donate is a precious and sacred gift you give to a patient that allows them more time with their families and loved ones,” Walker said. “There is truly nothing you can give that is more precious than that, and it only takes a little bit of your time.”
For more information, visit www.DonateBlood.org
Saving lives one drop at a time: The legacy of Matt Mueller
By Carol Lawson-Swezey, Reporter
Former Buchanan High School Activities Director Matt Mueller always wanted his students’ service to extend outside of class and into the community. And since his untimely death in 2000, the BHS leadership students have kept his legacy alive with continuing his annual blood and marrow drive.
The Matt Mueller Blood Drive and Bone Marrow Registry has been held annually since 2001, in honor and memory of Mueller, Buchanan’s first activities director, and is one of the largest in the Valley, with an estimated hundreds of annual donors.
Mueller was the first to set up a blood drive at Buchanan. He died suddenly in 2000 and the following year, the blood drive was renamed in his honor.
When Mueller was 18 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and required surgery and received radiation treatments, said his sister Paula Mueller Jordan. “Many times his blood levels were very low. He never ended up requiring a blood transfusion but had a first-hand understanding of the needs and benefits of blood transfusions.”
Jordan said her brother was passionate about everything he did.
“He loved the kids and truly cared about them. He loved to see them engaged in doing good things for the community and others. He had a great sense of humor and made activities like the blood drive a “fun” thing for the leadership students to do- they probably didn’t realize at the time (and still today) what a valuable thing they were doing because it was so much fun. He was also a very competitive person, so having it be the biggest blood drive was very satisfying for him. And he probably still looks down from heaven and says ‘oh yeah, we are the best.’”
The next drive is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room at Buchanan High School on Feb. 11. All donors will receive snacks, a commemorative T-shirt, plus a free BBQ meal and a variety of discounts from Valley businesses for dining, recreation, entertainment and services.
In addition to blood donors, this drive will also register bone marrow donors. Donors must be 18-45 years old and in good general health. There are no minimum weight requirements, but weight maximum guidelines do exist. Marrow donors will be considered for all patients searching the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Registry.
Matt’s wife, Christine Tessler, still teaches at BHS and is now remarried but works tirelessly to continue Matt’s lifesaving legacy by encouraging involvement. She always donated herself until a cancer diagnosis three years ago.
“Two more clean years, and I can donate again, they make you wait 5 years,” Tessler said. “I work with the kids in leadership to help advertise, and our Principal Ricci Ulrich has been very helpful; talking to staff to help encourage the MMBD, letting kids give blood during class if the teacher approves. Once they give, most will do it again, just the initial fear of the needle. So many staff members who knew Matt have retired or were hired after Matt left Buchanan, but I think they understand that this blood drive is more about what Matt wanted for this school – to teach kids to be unselfish and active in their community, then just Matt. He was an extremely giving person, always helping others and wanted to teach the students here to be gracious givers.”
Matt’s sister, a nurse at Saint Agnes Medical Center, said that Valley hospitals are doing their part to carefully monitor the blood usage.
“We have protocols that we work with all our physicians to abide by- they are evidenced-based and indicate the appropriate level and clinical parameters for administrating blood,” Jordan said. “In the old days, if a patient had a low hemoglobin (red blood cell count), a physician would just routinely order two units of blood. Studies have shown that often times one unit may suffice- so in order to avoid wastage of blood, we give one unit at a time and then recheck the patient’s level and assess their clinical status to see if it warrants more blood.”
“Matt is probably blown away that the blood drive has continued so strongly and that the kids hear about him through the Matt Mueller blood drive,” Jordan said. “He is strutting his stuff.”