Sean Reader passed away from leukemia about one year ago, on August 14, 2006. He was twelve when he passed away, and as the Dodgers start their ThinkCure! campaign, I can't help but think that Sean had something to do with it. A year ago in July, Sean was undergoing his 4th round of chemo when a Dodger group consisting of Ethier, Furcal, Martin, and Frank McCourt, visited Children's Hospital. Sean had been looking forward to this visit for several weeks, as he was the biggest twelve year old Dodger fan in the world. Frank met with Sean that day, and I think he may have made an impression on him. Sean was just weeks away from leaving us as he had fought a valiant battle, but the current knowledge, was not going to be enough to save him. Yet, even in his last weeks, all he wanted to talk about was his Dodgers. That could not have been lost on Frank. Frank has referred to Sean in inspirational speeches he has made since then, so we know Frank's thought about him. How much that played into the Dodgers starting ThinkCure!, I'll never know, but I expect it helped facilitate the process.
Sean's father had season tickets and they sat in the first row of the old section, about halfway between 3rd base and the foul pole. When Sean was able to, they would manage to go to the games. However, if you've ever sat in those seats after the stadium's modifications, you'd know that the new sight lines are tough on short people. It's also hard to get a good view of the infield, if anyone to your right leans forward in their seats. The ushers, however, would always spot Sean, and wave him into the new section, so he could watch the action. These simple gestures meant alot to Sean and his father. I'm sure the ushers looked forward to the games Sean could attend, and cried silently when they realized he couldn't make them any longer.
Sean would never leave the hospital after the Dodgers' visit. He lost the battle with leukemia, and the fourth round of chemo had broken his body down. Still, he watched the games from his hospital bed. Whenever family and friends visited, and saw his body show animation, they knew immediately that something in the game had happened. They would glance up at the TV, and more times then not, a Dodger player would have just hit a home run.
Sean wasn't just a Dodger fan, he was a brilliant boy. In February, 2005, less than two months before his diagnosis, Sean won the title of Western States Chess Champion for the 6th Grade. Three days after he learned he had leukemia, Sean headed for Tennessee where he lead his elementary school team to second place standings, in the nation. That's like being runners-up at the Little League World Series (and Sean being the team's best player).
And above all, he was a great son and person.
On this year's Opening Day, the Dodgers presented Sean's mother and father with seats from Dodger stadium. On the pair of seats is a plate that reads "In Memory of Sean Reader Born 9-18-93, passed 8-14-06 # 1 Dodger Fan ". The seats are located at Field Level, Section 43, Row A, Seat # 5 & 6."
Leukemia is what ended Sean's and many other children and adults' lives prematurely. Doctors will say that with their new protocols, the ability to survive now, is better then ever before. The survival rate, however, needs to get better, because people are still dying at a greater rate than is acceptable.
The McCourts realize this, and it's a credit to them and the Dodger organization that they're attempting to do something positive, by establishing ThinkCure!, and work towards a cure for cancer. This is a wonderful endeavor, yet it is a long term goal that may take many years to bear fruit. The effort to cure cancer lies with research, and the money needed to facilitate it. Many people, who are able to, will be donating money to ThinkCure!, which is great, but there are other immediate and direct ways people can help those fighting the cancer they've contracted, give them a better chance for survival, and it doesn't cost anything but the desire, time, and willpower.
Unfortunately not everyone can, as the requirements are rigid, and it may seem like you've had to live the life of a scout to pass the screening test. On the other hand, do you really need another tattoo? Donating platelets is so much easier than it was in the old days. You get to watch the latest DVD or browse the internet and the 2 ½ hours goes by very quickly. The payback is enormous not only for the person who receives your donation, but you will also find that every time you leave the donation center, you feel better about yourself. The staff will treat you like you're a hero, but don't kid yourself, you're really only doing what everyone who can, should be doing.
Donating platelets may or may not save a person's life but it will definitely give them a chance. Sometimes that chance only means extending someone's life several more weeks. That probably sounds pointless, but it is far from it. I would have had the same point of view several years ago, but having seen what a few more weeks means to parents when they know that it is all they have, those weeks are as MasterCard would say, "priceless".
When a person is diagnosed with leukemia it is a done deal that they will need massive amounts of whole blood, platelets, and plasma to survive the series of treatments. Some families are lucky in that all donations can be done within their family and friend structure, and will not need to rely on outside donations. However, many families are not so lucky. If they cannot get a donation system set up, they will need to rely on Red Cross or the hospital where they are receiving treatment, to provide their loved one with blood, platelets, and plasma.
Platelet products are only good for a short time - they must be transfused within 5 days of collection. Also, platelet products cannot be stored or frozen, which means the need for products is constant and continual, which is why a constant supply is needed. It is imperative that platelets are available when needed, but sometimes that isn't the case, since no one can guarantee a constant supply. The more donations patients and caregivers can be assured of, the better chance that patient has to survive their series of treatments, in a timely manner, which is crucial.
For twenty-five years, I donated blood on a sporadic basis and never enough to be proud of. I'd hit the Red Cross donation area at my local Veterans club and I was impressed to see 70 year old men who hadn't missed a donation for 40 years. Every six weeks for 40 years.
Those are amazing men. I learned the hard way about platelets, and since I started donating three years ago, I've tried to keep a regular schedule, but it's easy to let life get in the way. What gets me back on track very quickly, however, is realizing how difficult it is for everyone at a cancer center, from the caretakers, to the families, and take that into perspective.
My wish is that some of you venture into this career of donating, along with me. You'll feel better about yourself, while helping so many. It will be one of the most worthwhile things you'll ever do. Only 5% of Americans donate, which I understand is the worse percentage in the civilized world. I know we're a self absorbed culture, but I think our lack of donations may be based on plain ignorance of what is needed. Don't wait to do it until you find out that someone you love needs your donations.