Knox Shepherd

Knox Shepherd

The weight of devastation when one learns their toddler has a brain tumor can be like an anchor, first dropping from your heart into your stomach, down through your legs and eventually engulfing your feet. It can be paralyzing.

But for Ashley and Erikk Shepherd, they had little time to think or grieve when they learned their 3-year-old son, Knox, had a large mass on his brain and needed emergency surgery. Since then, they’ve acted with unrelenting speed to save and take care of their oldest child and done so with compassion and grace.

First, it was emergency surgery just a day after Thanksgiving 2021when Knox vomited and complained of pain and pressure in his head. Then, it was quickly relocating the family to Memphis, Tennessee, so Knox could be treated at St. Jude Hospital with 30 rounds of proton radiation and then chemotherapy in hopes of fully ridding his head of an anaplastic ependymoma, a rare tumor that forms when cells in the central nervous system begin to multiply rapidly.

And now, even with Knox still battling cancer and just barely a half-year removed from his diagnosis, it’s quickly organizing a blood drive to give back. Knox has needed two blood transfusions so far to recover from the grueling chemotherapy treatments and could need more. The Shepherds feel that encouraging others to donate blood is the least they can do to give back for all the help and support they have received.

“We just want to help in whatever capacity we can,” Ashley said. “We want to pay it forward for someone else.”

In mid-May, less than two weeks after the Shepherds returned home to Louisville, Kentucky Blood Center teamed up with the Shepherd to host in-center blood drives in Knox’s honor. Although few could imagine being in the shoes of the Shepherds, it was the Shepherds putting themselves in someone else’s shoes that motivated them to organize the blood drive.

Knox’s blood type is AB+, which means he can receive blood from donors of any type). Ashley started to think about if the role was reversed. What if Knox could only receive blood from a small blood group, Ashley thought?

“Everyone is asking what they can do to help, I just kept thinking if he couldn’t receive any type of blood, what I would do,” Ashley said. “I just want to encourage more people to donate.”

While his parents love on him and find ways to thank others for their unwavering support, Knox has fought cancer like the superheroes he admires, often dressing up as one of them (Spider-Man is his favorite) as he fights the disease.

When he’s not at the doctor undergoing tests or treatments or taking naps to recover, Knox is with his baby brother, Sterling, playing on the floor.

“He’s been a trooper through all of it,” Ashley said. “He’s kicking butt.”

Karen McCracken

Giving blood not only saves lives, it sustains it.

Karen McCracken is living proof. Diagnosed with Von Willebrand disease, a lifelong bleeding disorder in which blood doesn’t clot properly, Karen requires a transfusion before undergoing any medical procedure.

Even the most minor routine check-ups.

“Anytime I have to have something done now, if I have to have my teeth cleaned or dental work or any surgery, I have to go to the infusion center first to prepare my body to have anything like that,” Karen says. “I have my check-ups regularly to I get my hemoglobin checked and all of my other levels, but if anything is off or I’m feeling poorly or I’m bleeding, I have to go to the infusion center.”

Karen, from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, has always experienced bleeding issues. She bruises easily and is often anemic. Doctors tested her for leukemia several times as a child.

Karen’s fears that something wasn’t right came to a head in 2001 when her tonsils were removed at 32 years old. A few days later she started bleeding in the back of her throat when a blood vessel burst.

For most people, it would result in nothing more than minor bleeding for 15-20 minutes until their blood clotted. Karen, however, lost more than half her blood supply over three and a half hours and was rushed to the hospital. She recovered, but not before suffering a stroke in her left temporal lobe from a lack of oxygen to her brain.

Karen was eventually diagnosed with Von Willebrand disease. Whatever relief she found in knowing her suspicions were right were now overcome with the consistent reliance on blood being available.

“Some people think they give blood for emergencies and tragedies – which we do need – but there are also people who need it just to live every day,” Karen says.

She is one of them. Karen intermittently needs transfusions depending on her hemoglobin level, but for someone who routinely undergoes surgeries and procedures for another undisclosed disorder, a healthy bloody supply is critical to living a normal life.

And during the pandemic, when the blood supply has dwindled, Karen can only receive transfusions on an emergency basis.

“It’s scary,” Karen says. “If I didn’t (have transfusions), what would happen is if I did bleed or I had a car accident or – God forbid – my appendix burst, I would probably die. I would just bleed out.”

Don Smith and Kaitlin Keane

April 11, 2018, was a special day for Woodford County donor Don Smith. He was making his 100th donation, an accomplishment in which he took great pride. However, he didn’t realize just how special the trip to KBC would be. When he arrived at Beaumont Donor Center, he was surprised to see his granddaughter, Kaitlin Keane, who had driven from Louisville not only to be there for Don’s milestone but also to become a blood donor herself.

Don started donating in the early 1960s and continued doing so occasionally. When he learned he had been one of 14 people whose donations were supporting a specific cancer patient, that spurred him to start donating regularly. He now donates platelets every two weeks.

When Kaitlin learned of her grandfather’s dedication, she decided to commemorate the occasion with a family party, complete with blood donation-themed cookies. But first, she was inspired to turn Don’s example into a family tradition. “If he could do it 100 times, I could do it one time,” Kaitlin said.

Don Smith, Woodford Co., and Kaitlin Keane, Louisville
Blood donors