Last May 31, Melissa Feola thought that her then-four-year-old son Owen had injured his pinky. It was swollen and red, prompting his doctor to prescribe an antibiotic.
But the medication didn’t help ease the swelling or the discomfort. Feola, a Pleasantville resident, took Owen to the emergency room to try and ease his pain.
It was there that a simple blood test changed the life of everyone in the family. Owen was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a type of blood and bone marrow cancer that affects white blood cells and the most common of childhood cancer.
“I think it flipped our world upside down,” said Feola, who also has two daughters, Adele, 7, and Charlotte, 8. “COVID flipped everyone’s world upside down, and then this was news certainly was as unexpected as it gets. It was a shock. At the time, there were so many restrictions in a hospital setting, where only one parent could be in the ER. My husband and I couldn’t both be present at the same time.”
So far, Owen’s treatments, which have included chemotherapy and more recently about a dozen blood transfusions, have been progressing well. While not out of the woods, Feola is hopeful that Owen will be able to make it to kindergarten this fall at Coman Hill Elementary School.
Mount Pleasant resident Josephine DiCostanzo, a family friend, helped to organize a blood drive, scheduled for this Friday afternoon and evening at the Thornwood firehouse at 770 Commerce St. in Thornwood in Owen’s honor. It will be held from 2 to 8 p.m.
“It’s sort of one of those helpless situations as parents where we’re just very thankful that our son is getting the care that he’s getting, but kind of learning more about the blood shortages across our country and how dependent our son has been on transfusions over the past few months,” Feola said.
DiCostanzo, who has been friends since with Owen’s paternal grandmother since childhood, said that she was looking for any way to pay tribute to those who’ve given blood for his transfusions. With blood donations down since the start of the pandemic, it made sense to hold a drive in Owen’s honor.
“This was a way for me as a lifelong friend of my girlfriend, in some small way, to try to do something pleasant,” DiCostanzo said. “I’m a cancer survivor, a two-time cancer survivor. I can’t give blood anymore…so this is a great thing to organize. I was happy to do it.”
While blood supplies typically lag during the summer when people are on vacation, the shortage this year is particularly acute, said Elizabeth Hernandez, business development manager for the New York Blood Center. For the New York metro area, a seven- to eight-day supply in blood inventory is sought, which amounts to about 10,000 units. Currently, there is only a two- to three-day supply.
Many organizations and houses of worship haven’t scheduled their blood drives this year because of COVID-19, and those that have held one are seeing low turnout, she said.
“That is contributing to the low amount of donors at our blood drives,” Hernandez said. “In addition to that, the traditional groups that host blood drives for the most part are not allowing us to come back with a blood drive.”
The universal blood types of O positive, O negative, A negative and B negative are the most sought after but anyone who is eligible may donate, Hernandez said. To donate, you must be at least 16 years old, weight at least 110 pounds and not have donated in the last 56 days. For 16-year-olds, they must have parental permission.
Feola said she is grateful that DiCostanzo, the fire district and the New York Blood Center were able to come together and help others who face life-threatening situations and need blood transfusions like Owen.
To make an appointment to donate at Friday’s blood drive, call 800-933-2566.