When Zach Cressman was sent home from school looking green, it was clear something was wrong. The 12-year-old had felt lethargic since the end of January and when he couldn’t finish the beep test for gym class, his mom, Monica, took him in for blood work.“That night our family doctor called and said you need to get him in to the emergency room,” Monica said. “We got blood work and they gave him platelets and blood. Once he had that done they brought him down here to London. Basically at that point of time they knew his bone marrow wasn’t working but didn’t know why. They ruled out cancer and then they ruled out viral infections and then they ruled out hereditary.”
Zach has aplastic anemia but doctors aren’t sure why. He’s only been home to Elmira for Easter since going to the hospital on February 14. Now, his local church is hoping the good people of Elmira will help support his treatment by donating blood.
“Because we’re draining the bank as we’re using it,” Monica said. “If people aren’t donating to the blood bank then all these people who are getting blood transmissions wouldn’t be able to get a blood transfusion.”
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He starts immunotherapy treatment on April 28, which will keep him in the hospital for 10 days. Right now he’s staying at Ronald McDonald House. The treatment drops his immunity and basically reboots his system. He gets platelets every eight days and blood transfusions every 18 days because his blood counts are so low.
“The big thing is because he’s using this blood, without the blood he wouldn’t be surviving,” Monica said. “His bone marrow’s not producing blood. The only blood that’s being produced is through his liver and kidney which isn’t enough.”
After the treatment he’ll be put on medication for a year to help him produce his own blood. The doctors hope this drug will decrease the number of times he needs to get transfusions. He’ll be neutropenic too, which means he won’t be able to go in the emergency room without calling ahead.
“Neutropenic means if any infection would come around he could pick it up just like that,” Monica said. “By doing this treatment they wipe out his system so that basically he’s like a newborn baby again. For this next year he can still catch any infection. We’re constantly having to check his temperature and make sure he doesn’t have a fever.”
He also won’t be able to attend school this year or next. He’s been communicating with his class through the messaging app Kik. His mom has a background in education so she’s been keeping him on track with his text books and Khan Academy online for his math skills.
Despite knowing he won’t be able to go home for likely another six months, he’s been upbeat about the process.
“I’m very surprised,” Monica said. “He has such a positive attitude. We very much have a very strong faith base. God has us on an adventure and we’ll see where it takes us. The doctors have also commented on his positive outlook.”
She adds they’ve had a terrific experience at Ronald McDonald house, noting the community feeling is helping them get through the difficult times.
“He’s very much appreciated all the support we’ve had,” Monica said. “The class has been really terrific in keeping up with him and giving him something to do during the day when he can do something.”
You can donate in support of Zach on May 29 from 2-8 p.m. in Elmira to help replenish the blood he’s using for his treatment.
“It’s nothing that we were expecting and it kind of just took our lives and turned them around,” Monica said.