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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

Family hosting blood, toy drive at Doak Elementary to support daughter

At just 6 years old, Teaguen Donahue knows more than most about the importance of blood donations.

Teaguen was born with von Willebrand disease, a lifelong bleeding disorder in which her blood does not clot properly, and she has had to rely on blood donations from others. Now, Teaguen and her family, along with employees at Doak Elementary School, want to give back by hosting a blood and toy drive to help others in need.

Conducted by Marsh Regional Blood Center and organized by her parents, “Sweet T’s Blood Drive” will be held on Friday, March 24, at Doak Elementary School, 710 West St., Tusculum. The blood drive will start at 10 a.m. and last until 6 p.m. Donors are also encouraged to also bring stuffed toys to donate to patients at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, in honor of Teaguen.

Teaguen’s diagnosis of Type 2A von Willenbrand disease came after her parents, Cortni and Kyle, noticed Teaguen would bleed excessively through bandages. They began seeking answers and a full medical analysis, and Teaguen has received regular medical treatments through Niswonger Children’s Hospital ever since – treatments that are only possible because of donations to blood centers like Marsh Regional.

“Teaguen’s life-saving medication is not synthetic. She does not respond to the synthetic medication, so the medicine she receives is from actual human platelets,” Cortni said.

While most of the Donahues’ experiences with Niswonger Children’s Hospital have been for outpatient care, in January, Teaguen experienced severe internal bleeding and was admitted to the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit for eight days of treatment.

“Watching her lose so much blood and life was very difficult. She was sedated and intubated, and we were not able to communicate with her, which was also very challenging. We stood in a valley that I didn’t think we could get out of, but here, we stand on a mountaintop,” Cortni said.

“We are so thankful for blood donors, and now, we have the ability to give back to our community through a blood drive. We’re just ready to celebrate all the things that Johnson City Medical Center and Niswonger Children’s Hospital helped us with by giving her lifesaving blood and treatment and supporting her with stuffed animals.”

Kyle said Teaguen had been hospitalized before for severe internal bleeding, but this time was worse than other visits.

“She had to have three pints of blood while she was in the hospital,” Kyle said. “So, we wanted to give back to those who gave so much to us, and we thought of this blood drive. Teaguen also loves stuffed animals, so we thought it would be a great idea to do a toy drive for other children coming into the hospital so they can have that comfort, too.”

Kyle said stuffed animals, or “stuffies” as Teaguen calls them, really gave his daughter comfort during her hospital stay. As Teaguen accumulated more and more stuffies at the children’s hospital, she eventually held a concert for them, which put a smile on everyone’s faces.

“The excitement on her face when she would get a new stuffie was contagious. We all just lit up and celebrated every time a new stuffie came in, because it was what gave her life and joy during a really difficult period,” Cortni said.

“We are hopeful through this stuffed animal drive that we are able to bring joy into the rooms of children at Niswonger. We are hopeful other children will be able to experience that comfort, even if it’s not medical comfort, that emotional support is really half the battle.”

The Donahues praised the caregivers at Niswonger Children’s Hospital and said the team members made the family feel valued throughout the hospital stay.

“We were made to feel like family. We have never experienced such care and investment in Teaguen than from those at Ballad Health,” Cortni said.

Chris Jett, CEO of the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network, said serving Teaguen and children like her is the reason the children’s hospital and network exist.

“We are so happy that we’ve been able to care for Teaguen, and that now, her family is eager to give back to the community through this blood drive,” he said. “I applaud our caregivers and specialists for their commitment to caring for every child who needs us, all across the Appalachian Highlands.”

Because the network of care extends beyond the main children’s hospital campus, the Donahues have also worked with Greeneville Community Hospital to create an action plan in case Teaguen needs emergency care again.

Steffanie Sukel, director of Marsh Regional, said the story of Teaguen is one of inspiration, and it is a direct example of why blood donations are so crucial.

“We are so happy to work with the Donahues to organize this blood drive and help honor the strength of this young little girl,” Sukel said. “Teaguen’s story of perseverance is touching to all who hear it, and it shows the need we are serving when we ask the public for blood donations. We want to give Teaguen and all those in need a chance at life, and we can do so through blood drives like this one.”

The Donahues encourage anyone who is eligible to come donate during the blood drive. Donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health on the day of the drive. All donors will receive a T-shirt and snack. Blood donations are not required to participate in the stuffed toy drive.

Those who have recently received a COVID-19 vaccine can donate the same day if they are feeling healthy. People recovering from COVID-19 should wait at least two weeks after COVID-19 symptoms subside before donating.

“The gift of life that is being given saved our little girl,” Cortni said. “We are eternally grateful because that life has given us our daughter’s life many times over. We are so thankful for another day with her and another chance to watch her grow and thrive. What the donors are doing, I don’t think they will ever know just how humbled and how grateful we are.”

In addition to Sweet T’s Blood Drive, Marsh Regional accepts appointments at any of its three locations in Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. Appointments can be made by calling 423-408-7500 or by visiting Walk-ins are welcome.

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