Family of children with severe anemia plan series of local blood drives

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SOUTHINGTON — A blood drive planned by the family of a child reliant on blood transfusions to treat a rare medical condition hopes the event will be just as much a party as a way to save the lives of those like Daniela Ciriello.

“This is the only way Daniela lives, if there's no blood she doesn’t stay alive,” Nicole Ciriello said of her 9-year-old daughter. Daniela Ciriello and her brother Matteo, 5, both have beta thalassemia — also known as Cooley’s anemia — a condition in which the body is unable to produce enough red blood cells.

Ciriello is organizing a blood drive on Feb. 12 at the Aqua Turf. It will feature sweets, a crafts table and Valentine the Clown, who is helping to organize the drive. The Ciriello family will be there to thank donors and show them the impact they’re having firsthand.

“It’s usually really positive and uplifting, everybody is so thankful and everybody is so happy to be able to help,” Nicole Ciriello said. “It's a really awesome environment and we always make it a really big party. And Daniela’s there and she’ll take pictures.” 

The family, which lives in Plainville, has been organizing blood drives for years, usually having two a year. This year, however, they’re aiming to have one every 56 days — the minimum recovery period between donations — thanks to the involvement of Valentine the Clown, the Berlin High School Upbeat Club and the Berlin Lions.

“Me and my husband couldn't be any more grateful, thankful … I praise God every day that people are looking out for her and want to help,” Ciriello said.

As a way of saying “thank you” she bakes cookies and cupcakes to bring to each blood drive. They also sell Daniela’s Dream for a Cure t-shirts for $25, with the proceeds going toward a foundation for her medical expenses.

Ciriello hopes at least 80 people will participate in the drive – around 50 have signed up already.

With the blood drive falling on Valentine’s Day, Diana Sheard will also be celebrating her 40th year as Valentine the Clown. Though she’s performed at some of the blood drives the Ciriellos have held in the past, this will be her first time helping to organize. Sheard, who donated blood last week, said it is an easy way for people to have a big impact.

“Really it's relatively easy, it takes an hour or so out of your day and you did a good thing,” she said.

Seeing Daniela and Matteo at events is an inspiration for Sheard. She got to know the kids years ago while performing at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and has become a family friend. 

“They have a lot of weight to carry with both kids having this illness, but you’d never know it. They’re happy, positive,” she said. “ … I just adore them and their strength … They are all very strong faith people, which I am as well.”

Worst shortage in decade

The Red Cross reports it is facing its worst blood shortage in over a decade as the pandemic causes blood drives to be canceled and staffing limitations. In a Jan. 11 statement, the Red Cross said it's seen a 10 percent decline in the number of donors since the start of the pandemic.

“While some types of medical care can wait, others can’t,” Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross, said in the statement. “Hospitals are still seeing accident victims, cancer patients, those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease, and individuals who are seriously ill...all need blood transfusions to live even as omicron cases surge across the country. We’re doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors. We need the help of the American people.”

dleithyessian@record-journal.com203-317-2317Twitter: @leith_yessian


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