With her brother and father spending fall break on a hunting trip, 11-year-old Madison Adams was looking forward to a relaxing girls’ week with her mother at the family home in Cave Springs, Arkansas.
She had no idea she was about to begin a journey of her own — one that would last multiple months, require dozens of blood transfusions and give the family a new appreciation for those local donors.
“I want to thank them for what they’ve done,” Madison said.
‘WE NEED TO SPEAK OUTSIDE’
When Madison developed an earache, hard cough and some bruising on her legs, her mom, Crystal, took her to the doctor. Blood was drawn for tests, and the two were sent home to await the results.
The doctor’s visit was believed to be a momentary interruption in a week of respite and relaxation.
After all, Madison was about two months into fifth grade and had just concluded her volleyball season, with little to indicate these seemingly minor symptoms should be cause for any serious concerns.
“Other than the cough and having a little earache, she was happy and healthy,” Crystal said. “And then we got the call two days later that something was wrong with her blood work and we needed to get to Children’s Hospital. They couldn’t even give us the details because the lab called them to tell us to get there.”
As she and Madison sat in the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Northwest emergency department in Springdale, Crystal received an email containing the lab results.
“I handed them over to the doctor and she wrote all of them down,” Crystal said. “Within a second, she said ‘We need to speak outside.’”
The doctor told Crystal the unthinkable: The two were going to be airlifted to the hospital’s primary campus in Little Rock, because the results appeared to indicate that Madison had leukemia.
“I just went completely numb.” Crystal said. “I didn’t know how to process it. I don’t think I could answer any questions. I could just nod my head. I don’t even know what all she said after that. At the end, she just said ‘Do you need a hug?’ That’s all I could do. I don’t even know the rest of the words that came out of her mouth, honestly.”
‘SHE GOT VERY SICK’
A helicopter carrying Madison and Crystal departed Northwest Arkansas around 6 p.m. on October 19, 2022. Upon their arrival in Little Rock, the 11-year-old was immediately admitted to the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit — and promptly received the first of many blood transfusions.
“Her blood was so sticky and thick that she was at a high risk of stroke,” Crystal said.
Madison’s white blood cell counts were around 155,000, at least 14 times the normal level for a child. They had risen 15 percent since the first blood tests, performed just two days prior.
Doctors also relayed an official diagnosis — acute myeloid leukemia, commonly shortened to AML.
They advised that Madison would need a total of five rounds of chemotherapy, which would last about eight months. She spent the next five weeks in the hospital as she began her road to recovery.
“The first week or so, she got very sick,” Crystal said.
‘IT’S JUST MIND-BLOWING’
Madison’s form of leukemia, AML, and her chemotherapy schedule both negatively affect her blood cells and levels — making blood and platelet transfusions a key component of her treatment process.
As one example, platelets are the blood component that help stop and prevent bleeding. Crystal recalled a time where Madison’s platelet levels were so low, a nosebleed lasted 38 hours.
“I never knew that AML actually eats through their platelets and then the chemo itself eats through their platelets,” Crystal explained. “It drops everything to zero, pretty much, and then they have to give (her) blood every other week and platelets one to two times a week.”
Madison has received 37 blood and platelet transfusions during her first three rounds of chemotherapy, a number that is likely going to rise as she continues treatment. She began her fourth round of chemotherapy on February 22.
“It’s just mind-blowing,” Crystal said. “You don’t think about kids needing that much, or even adults.”
Since blood and platelets can’t be manufactured, Madison — and countless other children battling cancer — rely on the generosity of volunteer donors to help them overcome the disease.
While Madison still returns to Little Rock for chemotherapy treatments, many of her transfusions have been administered at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Northwest in Springdale. She’s been admitted to the hospital nine times since her initial diagnosis, spending a total of 62 nights away from home.
Each transfusion has provided a much-needed boost.
“We started to see a difference in how much energy she has after blood and platelets,” Crystal said.
‘EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS’
The Springdale hospital is one of more than 40 local healthcare facilities that depend on Community Blood Center of the Ozarks blood donors to keep the shelves stocked for their patients. While Madison’s journey is far from over, those donors have helped enable several significant victories along the way.
Madison had to be pulled from school when she was first diagnosed with leukemia, but her health has improved with the treatment. She is now in remission, and able to attend a couple of virtual classes.
Madison’s playful personality has started to resurface, as well.
“She’s opened back up,” Crystal said. “She is happy. She’s eating better when she’s at home.”
Crystal and Madison are forever thankful for the 37 people who have already preserved and enhanced Madison’s life. By sharing their story, they hope to inspire many more donors to help others in need.
“Every little bit helps,” Crystal said. “Your hour – or however long it takes – can help a child just get through a week without nosebleeds or without feeling fatigue or without feeling dizzy-headed.”
Donating blood with the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks allows more than 40 local hospitals to continue to provide lifesaving treatment to friends, neighbors and loved ones here in our communities. There is no other organization that supplies blood and blood products to these hospitals, who rely exclusively on CBCO donors to help patients like Madison. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.