In 2002 when Northlea Elementary and Middle School learned two of its students had been diagnosed with leukemia in the same week, the school community came together to help.
Nearly 10 years later, the community continues to help twice a year by hosting blood donor clinics.
“It’s been astonishing,” said Lisa Duval, who had a child at the school at the time and is part of the committee that organizes the clinics. “The first clinic we told Canadian Blood Services to be prepared that there were going to be more people than they knew how to deal with and in fact I think it was the largest single clinic in a community in Canada, at least at that time.”
On April 11, Northlea will host its 19th blood donor clinic from 2-8 p.m. in their gym.
“We run them in October and April and it’s in support of the families so that they know that the community is still behind them,” Duval said.
While the first clinic was in support of then-students Emmy and Noah, both now in their early 20s, it has since expanded to include other members of the community who also suffer from leukemia.
Canadian Blood Services’ manager of donor services Fred Ho, said the Northlea blood donor clinic is special because it has kept the community engaged for so long.
“One of the unique aspects of the clinic is that it was one of the first really community-driven and community-focused donor clinics,” he said. “The strong community focus has been consistent for these nine years.
“A lot of times you get this type of clinic occurring and, pending the circumstances, the interest diminishes with time.”
According to Duval, 175 units of blood were collected at the very first clinic and some potential donors had to be turned away for lack of beds. Those numbers have since dropped slightly but the clinic is still performing well above projections.
“We average 120 (units) and for a clinic our size the expectation is somewhere around 60 units,” Duval said. “So we’re still, nine years later, bringing in twice what’s expected for a clinic our size.”
The community has organized swab drives in the past to look for possible bone marrow donor matches but Duval said she and her committee believe they have tapped out the community in that respect. The blood donor clinic will mark its 10th anniversary next year, although it was never planned to have run for this long.
“We initially guaranteed that we would do this for five years, until the kids were considered ‘cured’, which is usually the limit, five years in remission,” Duval said.
Although Noah has been victorious is his battle with the blood cancer, Emmy’s leukemia has returned for a fourth time and she is receiving treatment. Ho said blood donations not only go to help those in the community affected by the disease, but others who are in need of blood as well.
“If you are in good enough health and are able to attend the clinic your one donation of blood has the potential to assist up to three patients,” he said.
Duval said she is confident the surrounding Leaside community will continue to come together for this and other causes for years to come.
“It’s a town within the big city,” she said of Leaside. “When someone is in need and people are aware of it they do pull together and respond to help.”
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