“Together We Can Make a Difference” in Ian Slabaugh’s battle against leukemia

By: Phil Bloom, Volunteer for the American Red Cross – Indiana Region

Amy Slabaugh was simply amazed.

The American Red Cross had organized a blood drive in honor of her son, Ian, who has battled Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for more than five years. The goal was to get 50 donors for the Feb. 2 event, but 79 people registered, everyone showed up, and everyone was able to give blood.

“It was kind of ironic that the day before the blood drive, Ian needed blood,” Amy said. “You don’t realize it until you need it how much it’s taken for granted.”

“You always just assume it will be there when he needs it. They bring it in and it’s there. That day I thought, oh my gosh, someone had to take 20 minutes out of their day to do that. It made that blood drive so much more special knowing that 79 people took time out of their day to give of themselves for someone they’ll probably never meet.”

The blood drive was organized by Matt Murphy, a Red Cross ambassador in Monroe County where he and the Slabaughs live. After seeing a post on the “Warriors for Ian” Facebook page, Murphy responded.

“At that moment I knew I had to do something, and that something was a blood drive in his honor,” he said. “It was important to me to find a location in our community to show the support and love we all have for the Slabaughs.”

The Ellettsville Christian Church was identified as the site for the event and Murphy began “getting the word out and pushing to fill up every donor spot available.”

Contributions helped provide lunch for the staff and extra goodies for the blood donors. Murphy’s wife, a friend, and another Red Cross volunteer focused on managing a smooth operation and keeping the staff happy.

“I felt blessed to see the turnout of this event,” Murphy said. “The love, support and encouragement was simply amazing. This family is very special to this community, and as they fight, we fight. That is what life is about.”

Almost one-third of those that gave were first time donors, answering a call that is constant.

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs a blood transfusion. The Red Cross responds by providing about 50% of the nation’s blood supply for accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and people receiving treatment for sickle cell anemia, cancer, or leukemia.

In Indiana, the Red Cross needs about 350 donors each day to meet the needs of patients at 80 hospitals across the state.

Patients like Ian Slabaugh.

He was first diagnosed with leukemia in December 2015 when he was in fourth grade. After 3½ years of treatments, including transfusions of blood, platelets and granulocytes, chemotherapy, and other medications, he rang the cancer bell at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, signaling that he was cancer free.

Regular checkups followed every few weeks as he and his parents, Amy, and Tom, made the 55-mile one-way trip from their Ellettsville home to Riley Hospital. All seemed fine until early 2020 when the Riley medical staff detected low platelet counts.

“They just kept getting lower and lower,” Amy said. “And in March they told us his leukemia was back.”

Ian went through 60 days of inpatient chemotherapy at Riley. It didn’t work, so he had a bone marrow transplant in July. That didn’t work either, so he’s back on chemotherapy in preparation for CAR-T, a promising new therapy in which immune T-cells in the blood stream are removed from the patient, equipped with cancer-fighting proteins, and transfused back into the patient.

“We’re trying to get him ready for that,” Amy said.

In the meantime, Ian is sitting out his freshman year at Edgewood High School.

“He misses being with his friends,” Amy said. “He’s not seen most of them since last March. They do whatever it is they do, text each other, but he hasn’t really been able to hang out with them. He’s ready to go back to school and do all the things 15-year-olds do, like take driver’s ed and all that.”

During Ian’s journey, people regularly asked his parents how they could help.

“He’s needed blood quite a bit, platelets quite a bit, so we just started saying if you can donate, that would be great,” Amy said.

The outpouring of support for the first blood drive in Ian’s honor has prompted Murphy to begin planning a second one in July with even loftier ambitions.

“Matt has the goal that he wants to beat the top donation,” Amy said. “I think it’s 126 people. So, his goal is he wants to try to set the new record (140 donors).”

Murphy sees a higher purpose beyond how much blood was collected at the first event or what a second drive can bring – awareness.

“The importance of blood during Ian’s journey is the same importance it is to so many,” he said. “The motto for this drive and the rest to come is ‘Together We Can Make a Difference.’”

The Red Cross makes a difference by annually collecting more than 4.7 million blood donations and more than 900,000 platelet donations from nearly 2.7 million donors.

Replenishing blood supplies is crucial since it can’t be stockpiled for long periods of time. Blood must be transfused within 42 days and platelets within five days. Consequently, the Red Cross is continually seeking donors through blood drives like the one for Ian Slabaugh or by donating at Red Cross facilities.

How to donate blood

You can schedule an appointment by:

  • Visiting RedCrossBlood.org
  • Calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)
  • Downloading the American Red Cross Blood Donor app
  • Enabling the Blood Drive Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device

All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds, and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also must meet certain height and weight requirements.

Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass® to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their appointment or before arriving at a blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Blood Donor app.

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamerican.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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