Blood drive will honor toddler battling leukemia
Three months ago, Kari and Mark Uetz received the kind of news that parents dread.
Their daughter Danica, then 15 months olds, hadn’t been feeling well over the holidays. They took her to see a doctor the day after Christmas, and were sent home with directions to make sure she got plenty of rest and fluids.
But parental instinct told Kari and Mark that something more was wrong. Then Kari, the college and career readiness teacher/coordinator at Cottage Grove Middle School, heard a mother and daughter talk about their experience with leukemia during a school presentation to kick off a Pennies for Patients drive.
“Something clicked in me when they discussed her initial symptoms,” Kari said.
Danica’s pale skin, lethargy and restlessness matched what the mother saw in her daughter, now a five-year cancer survivor.
On Jan. 9, Mark brought Danica in for another checkup with their regular pediatrician, who immediately suspected that Danica was seriously ill.
The initial blood test revealed that Danica’s hemoglobin level was very low, requiring a blood transfusion at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Within hours, she was diagnosed with leukemia.
The past three months have been trying for the Uetz family, which also includes Sawyer, 5, and Cassidy, 4.
They have two daughters from Mark’s previous marriage, too. Lizzie is a sophomore at UW-Milwaukee and Andrea is a senior at Menomonie High School.
Danica recently completed in her third stay at Children’s Hospital, where she underwent five days of intensive chemotherapy treatment.
She has needed five blood transfusions, so far, and will likely need more throughout a planned two and one-half years of treatment.
Danica’s full diagnosis is acute lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is typically highly treatable in children, according to Kari. But Danica is in the high-risk treatment group due to a rare MLL chromosome mutation in the cancer cells.
Because of the chromosome mutation, there’s a possibility that she will need a bone marrow transplant at some point.
Kari was encouraged by what Danica’s oncologist had to say about the resilience of children, and how they would be amazed by how she responds to the treatment.
“Over the past three months, as I’ve been working to adjust to our new normal, one thing I’ve come to believe without a doubt is that (the oncologist) was right,” Kari said in an email to the Star-Observer.
“Dani is incredible. She’s the life of the party here on the oncology floor at Children’s. She barrels down the halls (parent in tow with her big old IV pump) at full speed, waving, smiling, saying hi to anyone and everyone she meets. She brings out smiles in kids who you can just tell are much worse off that she is.”
The medical care has put a financial strain on the Uetz family. They have good health insurance, but there are expenses it doesn’t cover.
The bill from the first visit to the pharmacy was almost $500.
Danica needs a lot of diapers because they have to be changed every two hours during and for a few days after chemotherapy treatments. Gas, parking and food expenses during hospital stays also add up.
Kari has taken time off from her teaching job to be with Danica during the treatment.
Mark shut down the time-consuming business he owned and is now a salesman for an Eau Claire roofing company.
April 19 event
Now the Uetz’s church family has come together to organize an event to honor Danica and raise funds to cover expenses associated with her treatment.
Cheri Buelow, the connections coordinator at Trinity Lutheran Church, came up with the idea for a Red Cross Blood Drive, combined with a bone marrow match, silent auction, bake sale, T-shirt sale, worship service and spaghetti dinner.
The day-long event is Saturday, April 19, at Trinity Family Center, located on Badlands Road east of Hwy. 12 in the town of Hudson.
Kari Uetz and Buelow are both worship leaders at the Family Center.
“It started with wanting to do a blood drive in honor of Danica, and then that got a little bigger,” explained Buelow, who says Kari’s “depth of faith” is an inspiration to her.
“She’s had big challenges in life, and her faith is what has gotten her through a lot of tough stuff,” Buelow said. “This is another big one.”
The blood drive, combined with cheek swabs for bone marrow matches, the silent auction, bake sale and T-shirt sale will happen from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
People planning to donate blood are encouraged to schedule an appointment through www.redcrossblood.org or calling 1 (800) 733-2767.
The regular 5 p.m. Saturday worship service at the Family Center will focus on prayers for the Uetz family. The spaghetti dinner will follow the service, at about 6 p.m.
Cold water/snow challenge
The Uetz family’s Trinity friends also have begun a Cold Water/Snow Challenge to raise money for Team Danica. Cheri and Jeff Buelow started it by having a video made of themselves jumping into open water in the St. Croix River, and then challenging other families to have an encounter with cold water or snow.
A Benefit for Danica Uetz Facebook page has been set up to provide more information about the benefit.