Billings girl with rare anemia thanks blood donors

By

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — For most donors, the process of giving blood ends as soon as they finish their juice and cookies.

"You put it in the bag and they take it in the back and that's the end," said Brad Koch, "It's anonymous."

But there's a whole other side to blood donation.

For Koch's family, after the blood is tested and distributed to hospitals, it is just the beginning.

Koch's daughter, Bria, 7, is one of only about 1,000 people in the world living with the rare blood disorder Diamond-Blackfan anemia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in cases of Diamond-Blackfan anemia, the bone marrow doesn't make enough red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.

People diagnosed with DBA usually have symptoms such as sleepiness, rapid heartbeat and heart murmurs. In a few cases, there are no physical signs, but up to 45 percent of those who suffer from this type of anemia have birth defects or abnormal features. Heart, kidney, urinary tract and genital organ defects are often present also.

Regimens of steroids, blood transfusions or bone marrow transplants are the only treatment options.

Bria has received a blood transfusion every three or four weeks since she was 7 weeks old to manage her condition.

"It truly keeps our daughter alive," said Bria's mom, Bonnie.

"We don't know any different. This is kind of our normal," Brad Koch said on Monday.

After a transfusion, it's as if Bria just woke up from a long nap. She goes right back to being a typical 7-year-old.

"I'm not tired anymore," she said.

The second-grader participates in gymnastics, goes skiing with her family frequently and has a betta named Levi.

Since Bria could walk and talk, the Koch family has been trying to make sure people know how significant it is when they donate blood.

When Bria was no more than 5 and her dad was giving blood at United Blood Services, the little girl walked around thanking people for their donations.

"When we asked why she was thanking people for donating, she said if they didn't, 'I wouldn't be able to be my daddy's little princess,' " said Lesli Asay, the donor recruitment director at United Blood Services in Billings.

United Blood Services provides blood to more than 47 hospitals in Montana and Wyoming.

This month, Bria received her 100th transfusion. The Koch family decided they wanted to do something special to thank donors while simultaneously raising awareness about Bria's rare form of anemia. They also hope to encourage others to donate.

After Bria's family released her medical records, Billings Clinic reviewed them and got the blood unit numbers from her transfusion records.

They gave those numbers to United Blood Services, who contacted the donors and invited them to attend the first ever, "Bleeding Hearts" luncheon on Feb. 17 at Billings Clinic, if they wished.

In 2011, Donna Funk donated blood in Roundup. Her blood made it to Billings and was used in a transfusion to Bria.

Funk thought nothing of it until she got an invitation to come to lunch.

"They sent a letter, and it piqued my curiosity," she said.

Coincidentally, she had jury duty Monday and was dismissed early. She decided she would come meet the little girl who had received her blood more than three years ago.

"Just to put a name and a face with a donation, it was pretty cool," she said.

Funk continues to donate blood.

"If you can give someone the gift of life, why not?" she said. "It's just so easy."

___

Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

©2014 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.