To help Gracey and other children who have this disease, the Wuest family organizes Gracey Fest, a fun event in Mt. Washington, KY, that raises money and awareness in support of the Cure JM Foundation. In addition to supporting this cause, the Wuests encourage Kentuckians to donate blood regularly so that it's always available for children who need it for their treatments.
Gracey has a simple but important message for blood donors: "Thank you for donating blood. Your donations help make my medicine so I can stay alive."
Watch this video to hear more from Gracey and her parents.
It was January 2012 when her 10-year-old son James wasn’t feeling well. “It was after the holidays, and he didn’t bounce back. He was tired. I was thinking mono.”
But she guessed wrong. A doctor’s appointment showed James had a dangerously low blood count, and by 4:30 p.m. they were at UK Hospital where James received four units of blood. The next morning he began chemotherapy for leukemia.
“That (diagnosis) turns your world upside down. It was horrible,” Hillary said. But, she added, they never contemplated anything less than a 100% cure. “That’s what we expected. We weren’t going to be beat.”
During his treatments, James had more than 30 transfusions, most of them in the first 12–15 months, she said. Those 30 transfusions came from 30 anonymous people who generously gave blood with Kentucky Blood Center.
“When he received transfusions, he immediately felt better,” said Hillary. “We were so fortunate that we had that resource available to him. Thank you to everyone who donates. When it’s your baby lying in that bed, it makes all the difference in their lives,” said Hillary.
James, now at Bourbon County High School, is in remission with an excellent long-term prognosis. “We are blessed with that,” his mom said.
"I'm very grateful to all donors," Rhonda says, "because I know without them I wouldn't be alive today. Please donate."
After the tumor was removed, Tanner underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Those treatments made him ill and weak. He needed blood transfusions to strengthen his little body. His first one was 4 weeks into radiation.
“When he got the transfusions, it was the most amazing thing. He’d be so lethargic and within 20 minutes, his color got better. He’d brighten up,” said Ann, who began recruiting friends and family to donate blood for Tanner. “It made me feel bad that we were using it all up. We needed to do our part.”
Her request was answered immediately by family friend Kim McClure. She became Tanner’s best donor. “Kim knew us and loved us enough to do it,” said Ann.
Tanner believed he felt better when he received Kim’s platelets. “When we’d see the yellow tag on the bag, (designating the platelets were designated specifically for Tanner), we’d take a picture of it and send it to Kim with a note that said ‘He’s getting your super-duper platelets,’” said Ann.
Ann watched her son get regular transfusions. “I guess I never thought about the continued need. You hear surgery and accidents, but you don’t realize the continued need for cancer patients. The treatment for cancer is important, sticking to the protocol outline. If you can’t do the treatment when you are supposed to, it could delay the outcomes. Tanner needed a transfusion to build him up enough to take the cancer treatment,” said Ann, who is delighted that the treatments worked and her 13-year old son is active, happy and healthy.
Ann Welch, Lexington
Lexington Police Officer, Recipient's mom
Today, Lucas is a college graduate with a degree in Organizational Leadership. He’s also a blood donor. “I donate every chance I get. I need to help replenish the stock,” he says.
Thanks to the 150 blood donors who saved Lucas’s life, he’s able to help others today. “It’s an overwhelming selfless act.”
Lucas Cannon, Flemingsburg
Blood recipient and blood donor
In her job, she’s on the move, traveling frequently to meet with high school students to encourage them to come to UK.
A medical problem slowed her down, though, but it wasn’t until she passed out and was taken to the E.R. that she discovered she was very anemic and close to developing even more serious issues. She received two units of blood. They told me, “If I didn’t get the transfusions I was on the verge of dying.
“By the grace of God, once I got everything sorted out, I realized donors helped me. Everything clicked about how important blood donors are,” said Joia, who now wants to raise awareness not just about the University of Kentucky but about blood donation, too.
Listen to Joia's special message for the blood donors who saved her life.
Joia Patterson, Lexington