Piper Novak is only 4 years old, but she is an inspiration.
Piper has inspired her aunt, Carolyn Chesta, of Algonquin, to organize blood drives every three months at her Huntley and Hampshire Snap Fitness Centers.
Piper has inspired Michelle Dodd, of Heartland Blood Centers, to make her a promise.
“She is a woman who knows where she is going. She’s only 4, but she is amazing,” Dodd said. “She says she wants to be a lawyer when she gets older. She is just wonderful. When you look in her eye, you see that spark. She is a fighter — nothing will get in her way.”
Piper, of Deer Park, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2 years old, her aunt, Chesta said.
Chesta has been organizing blood drives at her fitness centers since then. The first one benefited Piper, since she just had been diagnosed.
“It was devastating,” she said of the diagnosis. “It was a horrible experience to go through. I will say the doctors gave us hope from the beginning. But it’s been a long road.”
A Thankful Family
Chesta knew nothing about leukemia before Piper was stricken. What she’s learned since is how the diagnosis can affect the entire family. Families often need support, and Chesta’s family was touched by all the support they received.
The blood drives are a way for Chesta and her family to help others in the community and a way for them to thank others who have helped save Piper’s life, she said.
A Heartland Blood Center mobile coach comes to the center where people can register and recover after donating.
This next blood drive is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at the center, 10743 Huntley/Dundee Road.
“She’s doing great,” Chesta said. “She’s in a maintain phase. She continues to receive chemo six days a week through September.”
The chemo is given in lower doses than before, she said.
“The worst is behind us for sure,” Chesta said.
Dodd, marketing manager for Heartland Blood Center in Crystal Lake, manages between 20 and 30 blood drives a month.
Some groups hold regular blood drives, as Snap Fitness does, but “we wish we had more,” Dodd said. Regular blood drives help create good donor habits and keep the blood supply stable, she said.
Heartland is coming up on the hardest time of year to gather blood donations. About 25 percent of donations come from high school and college students, so summer vacation, combined with warm weather and family vacations, can cause a dip of 25 percent in the blood supply across the nation, Dodd said.
“It’s a very simple procedure for those of us who are healthy and want to share our good health,” Chesta said.
Chesta also is supporting Dodd’s A Promise for Piper.
Dodd is one of seven women throughout the state nominated by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Whoever raises the greatest sum of money to donate to the association will be named Woman of the Year, she said. A gala is planned June 16 in Chicago.
“It’s very exciting,” Dodd said.
“Our goal is to raise as much as we can for blood cancer research,” Dodd said. Although Dodd named her campaign for Piper, the proceeds raised at A Promise for Piper events go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Dodd became close to Piper’s family during the first blood drive held for her. “It was the first time I saw the pain and anguish on a mother’s face,” she said. “I met Piper and realized the impact on the family.”
“She loves to laugh,” Dodd said of Piper. “When you are with Piper, she will be doing something goofy and trying to make you laugh in some way.”
Her campaign also is dedicated to other families who have gone through a cancer diagnosis, she said.
The cutoff for cash or check donation is June 12. Donations can be made online, on A Promise for Piper’s website until June 16. The Facebook page updates upcoming events and fundraisers.