RICHMOND, Indiana - A spirit of hope, a strong sense of family and a loving tribute were all part of "Save-A-Life Saturday - Baby Cooper Blood Drive" March 22 at the Richmond Community Blood Center (CBC). It marked the second time the Newton family of Cambridge City has hosted a blood drive in honor of their son Cooper, and it again drew outstanding support.
Cooper was three months old when he was admitted to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and diagnosed with Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body. He was less than seven months old when he died Oct. 12, 2012 after struggling with heart and lung problems and leukemia.
His parents Clint and Beth Newton said Cooper received numerous blood transfusions as part of his treatment. They celebrated his memory with his "first heavenly birthday" blood drive at the Richmond CBC Donor Center on April 13, 2013. The March 22 "Save-A-Life Saturday" blood drive, a celebration of what would have been Cooper's 2nd birthday, was also an overwhelming success. Saturday's blood drive registered 104 people, including 19 first-time donors, and resulted in 81 donations for 115% of the collection goal.
CBC Account Representative Melinda Frech credited Beth Newton for her hard work encouraging donors and coordinating the event. Beth designed a special t-shirt. A Happy 2nd Heavenly Birthday Cooper!" banner with the "little vampire" theme graced the wall. The entire Donor Center was decorated for a birthday party and the Donor Café overflowed with pancakes and cupcakes.
A true testimony to community support for the Newton family came in the response to the blood drive. The donor center was crowded with donors and their families. Sponsors IHop, Texas Roadhouse, and specialty baker Joetta Harris donated food and Red Lobster donated gift certificates for door prizes.
Donors filled the beds in the donor center and on the CBC Bloodmobile parked outside. "It's great to see everybody come out and get to celebrate," said Beth, who is due to give birth to a baby daughter in July. "It gives us a warm feeling, everybody helping out."
Clint and Beth spent the busy morning welcoming friends, helping with the refreshments, and keeping track of Cooper's older brothers, Gavin age 9 and Gunnar age 7. Late in the blood drive Clint found time to make his 6th lifetime blood donation, in honor of Cooper.
"We knew last year that we'd do it again and planned on doing it every year," he said. "It's our way to remember Cooper. We do things to remember him on a daily basis."
One of the ways they keep his memory alive is by raising money for the Child Life program at Riley Hospital to buy Christmas gifts for young patients. Beth serves on the national board of the Noonan Syndrome Foundation. "We had never heard of it until Cooper ended up with it," she said. "Even the doctors were unfamiliar. That's part of our mission, that people can be aware."
Through their work they are spreading awareness of childhood disease and the value of blood donations. Richmond High School senior Emma Toney made her first blood donation Saturday. "My mom told me Cooper's story and that kind of reeled me in right away," she said. "I didn't have to know much more."
"He's a special little boy," said Rhonda Newton, who donated with her husband Nick, Clint's twin brother. "We have to remember him and help make life better for other people."
Nick praised the strength Beth and Clint have shown after their devastating loss. "Once they set their heads together on something, they get it done," he said. "There's a lot of planning, and they make it a success."
Yolanda Twine works with Beth's sister, Joy and made her first CBC donation Saturday. "She told me about the drive and I said I would definitely be there, because I'm a mother too," said Yolanda. "If that was my child, I would definitely want the support for my family."