‘She’s always just been lethargic’: 6-year-old diagnosed with blood disorder, family helps save 150 lives in her honor

MEDINA, Ohio — Briar Eyssen, 6, is a cheerleader, likes to solve word problems and rocks a Wonder Woman T-shirt.

She also has a blood condition that makes getting sicknesses like a common cold or virus potentially life-threatening — unless she gets blood transfusions to help her survive.

“If I don’t get it when I’m sick, and I really need it,” she explained, “then I’ll get more sick.”

Last weekend, Briar made time in her busy schedule to help other people who need blood transfusions like she does to help them survive by hosting a blood drive. She, her parents and two sisters, Kambrin, 7, and Eastyn, 4,  were able to help save more than 150 lives in the course of the afternoon.

“It was cool,” she said. “And I liked it because people saved my life by doing it.”

Briar was diagnosed with Hereditary Spherocytosis, a condition that affects red blood cells, about two years ago. Her parents, Nicolette and Dave, said she’d been lethargic and tired for some time and just seemed “off.” She got a cold, and it wouldn’t go away. She began sleeping nearly 20 hours a day and fought the cold for nearly three weeks.

Then her abdomen began to hurt, and her skin and eyes began to change colors. One night when she was sleeping, Nicolette noticed Briar’s heart was beating more than 200 times per minute. They immediately took her to the hospital. They were able to find a doctor who finally gave her a diagnosis.  It took about four months for Briar to combat the illness.

“The first year was rough,” said Nicolette. “She had two transfusions. But any time she had a runny nose, we were at the emergency room or doctor to see what we could do to get her better. It was very scary, but we got through it just by going through it.”

Dave said Briar’s situation is treatable, not curable. She’s able to be involved in school activities, like cheerleading, and live a pretty normal life. But each time she contracts a virus, she’ll need to be seen under a doctor’s care. If her red blood cell count drops too low, she’ll need a transfusion.

Dave said the family has met a lot of amazing people through their journey.

“And through this we’ve learned a lot about the blood shortage,” said Dave. “So our hope is to change some of the research specific to what she has. But an impact we can make right away is to encourage people to donate blood.”

That’s why the family decided to contact Vitalant, a nonprofit blood service provider, to help them organize a blood drive. It was held Sunday at Shale Greek Golf Club. Briar wore her Wonder Woman T-shirt. There was a total of over 50 blood donations.

Sarah Wering, spokesperson for Vitalant, said that equates to 150 units that can help 150 people.

“Your unit of blood comes back to our lab…it’s separated into three different components; platelets, plasma and red blood cells,” she said. “And each one of those components can go to treat someone in need. So whether they have cancer, a blood disorder, whether they are in a traumatic accident, each one of those products can help those people. So your one donation can impact the lives of three people.”

Dave said some of those who came to the drive couldn’t donate, but they’ll still help in the family’s mission.

“They came out, the supported, they were advocates,” he said. “They’re going to spread the word.”

The family definitely plans to have another drive in the future.

“There was so much love, and so much we can do to stop the blood crisis and save other kids, our child, everyone,” she said. “Just by donating.”

For more on donating blood through Vitalant, click here. 

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