02/26/10 — Two blood drives planned to honor young leukemia patient, blood donor

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Two blood drives planned to honor young leukemia patient, blood donor

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 26, 2010 1:46 PM

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Wesley Littleton takes a drive in his toy car. The 2-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia a few days before Christmas and has received seven transfusions. A special blood drive in his honor will be held Sunday at Whitley Church.

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Michele Strickland was an avid blood donor before she died of a heart attack this past Mother's Day. The Red Cross is holding a special blood drive in her honor March 9.

When Goldsboro native Mary Littleton saw her son's lab results, she knew even before the doctor said a word that her 2-year-old had leukemia.

After seven transfusions, Mary and her husband, Eric, also from Goldsboro, are thankful for the donated blood from strangers that helped saved Wesley's life.

In honor of Wesley, the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross will have a special blood drive Sunday from 9:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. at Whitley Church's Carpenter House -- and another will be held next month for a woman who made it her mission to make sure patients like Wesley have the blood they need.

Mary describes Wesley as "a crazy, energetic, loving child who is just amazing. You look at him and you wouldn't know he's sick."

Wesley lives in Norfolk, Va., where his dad is serving in the U.S. Navy. He was diagnosed with leukemia a few days before Christmas.

"We were back in Goldsboro visiting family the weekend before Christmas," Eric said. "Wesley's eye began to swell about midday Dec. 19, so we took him to Wayne Memorial Hospital. They said it was an allergic reaction, gave us Benadryl and sent us home."

The next morning, Wesley's eye was much worse, Eric said. They went back to the hospital.

When the doctor saw Wesley's symptoms -- pale skin and bruising -- he ordered lab work.

Thirty minutes later, the bad news came that Wesley had leukemia.

Mary works in the lab at the children's hospital in Norfolk and sees children with leukemia all the time.

"I see all these kids come in and my heart goes out to them, but you never think it's going to be your kid. I know all the trials and tribulations these kids go through, and now my kid is going to have to go through that."

Eric said it's something you never want to hear has happened to anybody, much less your own child.

"I was at a loss for words," was his reaction when he found out Wesley had leukemia.

Wesley has had seven transfusions and bone marrow biopsies, multiple spinal taps and round after round of chemo and shots and surgery to insert a portacath.

But that hasn't daunted the little boy's spirit. Having leukemia means his body can't fight off infections, so he is pretty much confined to his home.

Clinic days when he gets his chemo are special days for Wesley.

"He loves going to clinic," his mother said. "It's a time away from home. The clinic has a large play room and he runs around and has a grand time."

Wesley also loves to help the doctors and nurses.

A special needle with a blue cap is inserted into his portacath for his chemo. He calls it "Mr. Blue" and loves to help clean Mr. Blue in preparation for chemo.

Wesley will continue chemo for three years and the doctors hope he will be well by then.

But the Littletons will never forget that blood was there when their son so desperately needed it.

"The Red Cross always needs blood," Mary said. "It's really special for them to have this blood drive in honor of Wesley. It touches my heart."

People like Wesley are why Michele Strickland gave blood.

There will be another special blood drive March 9 from 1:30 to 6 p.m. at the chapter house in memory of Mrs. Strickland, who died 10 months ago.

She was just 32 when she died from a heart attack this past Mother's Day.

Ms. Strickland was an avid blood donor and would give as often as she could, her mother, Renea Cruse, said.

"It was something she felt very strongly about," Ms. Cruse said.

Michele's family decided to hold a blood drive in her memory to "help keep Michele alive forever. Her sister came up with the idea and her father, stepmother and I really pushed it.

"And it will give life through blood and help the community and the ones in need," Ms. Cruse said.

The family has not set a goal for the blood drive, but hopes that everyone will come out to donate.

Donors are encouraged to make an appointment, but walk-ins will be taken.

Giving one pint of blood helps save the lives of three people, said Kim Berrier, senior donor recruitment representative with the Carolinas Blood Services region of which Wayne County is a part.

"It only takes about one hour of your time and it would mean a great deal to Michele's family for you to follow Michele's example and give the gift of life as she did," Ms. Berrier said.

For more information about either blood drive, call the Red Cross at 735-7201.