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▶ Phi Delta Epsilon Blood Drive, by Rosheen Birdie
▶ My Incredible Journey To Raise Awareness, by Andrew Shieh
▶ "Reach Out and Engage", by Wendi Gu
▶ 2013 Volunteers: Maggie and Clara!
▶ "Project Thal", by Maggie Leinen

▶ A Lesson Remembered: Reflections of a Volunteer, by Zoe Oppenheim
▶ Love and Blood: Uncovering Thalassemia, by Rilee Hakola and Denise Corriveau
▶ Thalassemia Awareness: A Rewarding Volunteer Experience, by Sushrita Neogi

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Love and Blood: Uncovering Thalassemia
by Rilee Hakola and Denise Corriveau

Valentine’s Day Fun
‘Valentine’s Day Fun.”
Denise (bottom left)
Rilee (bottom right)
future volunteer Maggie (top right)
with patients at Children’s Hospital.
How is it that a majority of Americans have never heard of thalassemia, a chronic blood disorder, yet two million people in the United States carry the genetic trait for the disease? This fact will be the opening statement of our Community Based Service Learning (CBSL) project which we will present in May 2012. A CBSL project is designed to send students out into the community with the universal goal of improving our world. Choosing a CBSL project takes much thought and consideration, because it not only affects our English and Religion grades, it is required to graduate from Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, California. We teamed up together in May 2011 due to our shared love of children and common interest in working in a hospital. Our first inclination had been to work with cancer patients, because cancer was a well-known disease and a noble cause, but after many failed attempts at the hospitals and organizations in our area, it became clear this was not our calling. Through the Italian Catholic Federation (ICF) branch in Healdsburg and our mentor, Julie Tomasin, we discovered thalassemia and began researching the details. It was not until our first tour of Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, and meeting Laurice Levine, that we wholeheartedly wanted to improve the lives of those with Thalassemia.

The name of our project is Love and Blood: Uncovering Thalassemia. We are targeting three main areas: fundraising, raising awareness, and most importantly, volunteering at the hospital.

Our first encounter with children who had thalassemia was at the Christmas party, which we helped Laurice plan and execute. Along with making a presentation to St. John’s Elementary School, we ran a toy drive, collecting around 200 toys for the party, which was a great achievement. Prior to the event, we had expectations of what patients would be like but no personal experience to develop opinions, which contributed to an open mind. The party was hectic, bustling with volunteers, patients, and families, which aided our comfort level, but we did not develop the deep personal connections we were striving for. We instantly wanted to throw another party ourselves, but upon seeing all the hard work and time Laurice devoted to the Christmas party, we understood that it had to be on a much smaller scale.

Thus far, our Valentine’s Day party has been our greatest achievement, smaller yet effective. It has been our first experience organizing something of importance instead of plainly helping someone else organize, which is normal growth for a CBSL project. We could never have imagined the preparation required to throw a party for approximately 35 guests. Our first step in the process was fundraising, which began at Mary’s Pizza Shack. They offered a percentage of earnings for our cause, so we asked all around and gathered a large group to enjoy pizza with us. After we gave a presentation, the student council at St. Rose Elementary School in Santa Rosa, California, generously donated to our Valentine’s party, as well. With our funds, we purchased four tickets to Marine World as a raffle prize, flowerpots for decorating, and many other supplies to ensure that the party ran smoothly. We can still recall the names of the children who made an imprint on us personally and after that party, we truly appreciate that working with thalassemia was the right decision for CBSL.

We began our effort to spread awareness of thalassemia by going to our elementary schools, St. Rose and St. John’s. We made multiple appearances with different age levels through St. John’s, including fourth graders who made Valentine’s Day cards for the children at that party. The St. Rose seventh graders spoke to Laurice virtually after our presentation by using Skype, allowing them to see and hear about thalassemia firsthand. We have publicized our project all around our high school, Cardinal Newman. We asked the students to bake sugar cookies that could be decorated at the Valentine’s Party, hung flyers, and spoke in classrooms. The graphic design classes made Christmas cards for the Christmas party, and we bring along younger volunteers to events in hopes that they will take on our project and carry on our mission of service. The ICF’s national charity is thalassemia, so we gave a speech during their Ravioli fundraiser (for thalassemia) concerning our project, spreading awareness not only to our generation, but to others’, as well.

Every time we present our project, our audience is completely unaware of the effects of thalassemia. It is shocking to see the number of children and adults alike who are unaware of this disease, but we were in that same category until our project began.

Before beginning our project, we were required to write out all our goals for the upcoming months. Now that we are over halfway done, we are amazed by not only the number of goals we have achieved, but also how much they have changed. Our goals adapted to the many things we learned during talks with the patients about their home lives, hearing the true details of thalassemia that research cannot capture. Prior to actually encountering the hospital experience and working with the children, our goals involved brightening their lives and making them happier but now have evolved into being good listeners and stable friends they can confide in. Our naïve expectations of changing their lives were instantly demolished after our first engagement, when we knew they had touched our hearts more than we could ever touch theirs. Simple pleasures such as the balloons we use as decorations can fill them with such pure joy that it is impossible not to overlook their disease and view them as the kind, strong, and willful children they really are. We have long passed the 25 hours required for CBSL, but it is no longer just a project—it is a life-changing experience we are not ready to give up, which is why our future plans include volunteering in the hospital playroom. Love and Blood: Uncovering Thalassemia has not only helped us discover a disease in need of assistance but also to discover aspects of ourselves and the blessings in life only a thalassemia patient can show you.

Denise Corriveau and Rilee Hakola recently graduated from Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, California. Denise and Rilee both have plans to work in the medical field in the future that involve working in the medical field. Denise would like to become a pharmacist and Rilee would like to become a pediatric nurse. They enjoy every experience they have at the hospital and always look forward to coming back.

Northern California Comprehensive Thalassemia Center
UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland
747 52nd Street, Oakland CA 94609   •   Phone: (510) 428-3347   •   Fax: (510) 450-5647
© 2003-2012 Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland
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