Maize teenager can’t give blood, but she’s helping get more during national shortage

Hannah Soderstrom, 16, knows more about blood than your average teenager. And she knows how agonizing and nerve-wracking waiting around for a vial of blood can be.

You get to know those kinds of things when your life depends on it, she said.

Soderstrom, a student at Maize High School, has been battling leukemia for two years. Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. As part of her treatment, Soderstrom has received more than 50 blood and platelet transfusions.

Once, she had to be on standby at the hospital, waiting for someone to donate one unit of blood.

“That was the scariest hour of my life,” Soderstrom said.

Soderstrom knows the importance of giving blood, but because she has leukemia, she isn’t allowed to donate her own. Knowing firsthand the importance of blood donations, she and her family, with the help of the American Red Cross, have organized four local blood drives at a time when the United States is experiencing a severe shortage of blood.

“It’s the winter weather, mostly,” said Scott Soderstrom, Hannah’s father. “But it’s just like putting gas in a car. The need doesn’t go away, but people are more reluctant to pump gas in this kind of weather. For people who need the blood, the need doesn’t go away, but the supply does.”

The weather and flu outbreaks have been so bad this year that the American Red Cross issued an emergency plea for blood and platelet donations. In January, the Red Cross gave more blood than it received in donations. That was after a rough December when illness and poor weather kept people from donating, according to a statement by the organization.

The most recent Soderstrom drive was Saturday at the First Methodist Church in Maize. Donors gave 31 units of blood, but with a mixture of 20-degree temperatures, icy mist and slick sidewalks Hannah Soderstrom fell nine units short of her goal.

That may seem insignificant, but each unit could save up to three people’s lives, Soderstrom said.

On Wednesday, she’ll receive her last treatment. But she said she plans to continue to champion the cause of giving blood. She’s even scheduled another blood drive, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., July 13 at the First Methodist Church in Maize.

Soderstrom said she can understand why people might be skittish about donating blood for the first time (she admits that she’s afraid of needles), but it might mean the world to someone, somewhere.

“It’s just so important to people,” she said. “You can save someone’s life just by giving your blood. How cool is that?”

The American Red Cross says it urgently needs blood and platelet donations to prevent a nationwide shortage this winter.

Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.