When is the last time you made a point to visit a blood drive? To take time out of your day and spend the hour-ish it takes to save a life?
It sounds dramatic right-“give blood and save a life”. But for one local family, that dramatic statement is the truest one they’ve ever lived.
“In 2014 my husband, Steven, was diagnosed with AML Acute Myeloid Leukemia),” shared Kimberly Shelton a wife, mother, and assistant to the Superintendent at Conway schools. “At 41 years old, and incredibly healthy, this was a shock.”
The Sheltons are like any other family in southwest Missouri. “We live on 180 acres (in Conway, MO) where we run a few head of cattle, have a few horses, more cats than we can count and three spoiled dogs. Our daughter Lakyn graduated from Conway High School in 2021 and our son Blake is a senior at Conway and is active in FFA and NHS,” shared Kim.
“Within a couple weeks of the diagnosis, his (Steven’s) oncologist, Dr. Holden, recognized that he would need to go to Barnes Jewish…” reflected Kim.
From that point on the Sheltons lived two lives: one life away in St. Louis where Steven fought for his life as he underwent treatment and the other life where their kids were at home hoping their daddy would make it back alive.
AML stands for Acute Myeloid Leukemia. This type of cancer is cancer in the blood. It causes the bone marrow, the part of the body that produces blood, to only produces immature white blood cells.
“Essentially, with AML, the blood his body was producing wasn’t working,” explained Kim. “His white blood cells were going crazy. The cancer causes them not to mature, so you have a ton of baby white blood cells that aren’t equipped to fight any kind of disease…you basically can’t survive.”
“In order to fix that, the ONLY hope he had to survive was a stem cell transplant. And that transplant could kill him,” shared Kim. “What happens is you put someone else’s stem cells in your bone marrow and then the blood you produce isn’t even yours.”
To prepare for the transplant Steven had to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and then cleared out his bone marrow. “The blood he was producing was killing him. They got rid of everything in his bone marrow to produce blood, therefore his body wasn’t producing blood.”
“You have to have blood to live…but he can’t have his own blood…as they are killing his marrow, they are feeding him blood transfusions,” reflected Kim. “I remember this doctor saying that Steven was existing on ‘store bought blood’.”
Knowing a donor was of the essence, the Sheltons immediately reached out to Steven’s brother, Jammie. Not only are family members genetically similar, Jammie and Steven shared the same blood type-Type A+.
Steven had his first STEM cell transplant in December of 2014, which came from his brother Jammie. Five months later he relapsed. It was back to the chemo followed by a failed attempt to use more of the original stem cells donated.
The Shelton’s waited on bated breath for a second donor registration match. At the time Steven, who is 6 foot, had dropped down to just 113 pounds. During this time Steven received numerous blood transfusions to keep him alive.
In September 2015, a donor was located and Steven was prepped for yet another stem cell transplant. For a third time his body was stripped of bone marrow and he was injected with someone else’s.
Over the months of chemo, blood transfusions, and stem cell transplants the doctors treating Steven closely monitored his blood.
“During the time following his transplant, the blood transfusions were numerous due to Steven’s bone marrow essentially starting from scratch. We watched as Steven’s blood type cycled from A+ to “undetermined”, to AB+, to “undetermined”, and finally completed the entire process by changing Steven’s blood type to B+,” shared Kim.
At the five year milestone of Steven’s journey, his doctor shared that his prognosis had been very poor, “We both knew that Steven’s stem cell donors, and the numerous selfless blood donors, gave him the tools he needed to survive,” reflected Kim.
Fast forward to Steven and Kim’s son, Blake’s senior year of high school. Blake, who is a member of the National Honor Society, is required to help with the annual blood drive NHS hosts each year at his school in Conway, MO.
“This year they went to CBCO and did their training about the process, letting them know what their job would be…They had a card they were supposed to write out that said ‘this is my why’. Blake’s card said ‘I want to help others because they helped my Dad’,” explained Kim.
“It was this community, the people in Marshfield and Conway, that gave Steven, and our family the prayers and emotional support that were essential to our survival,” reflected Kim. “The road hasn’t been easy. Steven has had both hips replaced due to the side effects of his treatment and deterioration of bone…he was diagnosed with and received treatment for prostate cancer in 2021.”
The Conway High School blood drive, hosted by NHS will take place this Friday, October 14 at the Conway High School from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. There will also be a blood drive on October 17 at the Marshfield Senior Center from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Both blood drives offer donors the opportunity to receive a FREE Kansas City Chiefs T-shirt and the chance to enter to win a game package of two free tickets and a parking pass to the Chiefs January 1, 2023 game against the Denver Broncos.
“…this community is the very reason Steven is alive today and the reason my husband has danced with our daughter at prom and watched her graduate from high school. They are the reason that Steven was able to help our son rebuild the very truck that Steven drove when he was in high school, and see him sworn in as an officer in the FFA,” shared Kim.
“This community and the community of people who have volunteered to serve as donors of blood and stem cells are truly heroes,” expressed Kim. “They have saved the life of a man and changed the lives of his family. Please donate. You could save a life and change the lives of many.”
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