On Valentine’s Day, a 10-month-old will receive a second lease on life.
When Mason Silva was 5 months old, a fever became a whirlwind series of tests that resulted in a diagnosis of leukemia. He has been in and out of the hospital for transfusions and bone marrow biopsies since then.
“I thought cancer happened to older people,” said Kevin Silva, Mason’s father.
After all of these procedures, Mason will finally receive a bone marrow transplant from a donor in Germany at Boston Children’s Hospital on Feb. 14.
More than 1,000 miles away, Mason’s grandparents, Tom and Sue Silva, are honoring him in Gainesville. They wanted to travel to Boston to be with their grandson during his transplant, but he will be in isolation after the procedure.
To make up for not being with him, Tom and Sue are hosting a blood drive on the day of Mason’s transplant from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the LifeSouth Community Blood Center Headquarters, which is located at 4039 W. Newberry Road.
Tom and Sue have worked at LifeSouth for 12 years. They said they never realized how important blood donations were until learning about Mason’s illness.
“It’s not the way we would have wanted to get the wake-up call,” Sue said.
“But we’re trying to put the word out there to pay it forward,” Tom said. “It really hits home.”
People who are able to donate blood can give every eight weeks. Tom said he probably gave more than three gallons of blood until he started taking medications two years ago. The medications prevented him from donating, but now he is finally able to give again.
“On Valentine’s Day, for Mason, I’m donating blood,” he said.
An estimated 500 children younger than 15 will be diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2014, the same condition as Mason, according to the American Cancer Society.
Gary Kirkland, media specialist and photographer at LifeSouth, said one blood donation can save as many as three lives.
“Over at Shands, we’ve got lots of Masons,” he said.
The upcoming blood drive is just one of many that will help people in need of blood, marrow or other types of donations in Gainesville and surrounding cities.
According to LifeSouth, 4.5 million Americans need a blood transfusion each year. More than 44,000 blood donations are needed daily.
Laura Bialeck, LifeSouth district community development coordinator for the North Florida District Headquarters, said she expects many donations on Valentine’s Day in honor of Mason.
“When a family or person comes forward and shares their story, it becomes that much more powerful,” she said.
Even after all of these hardships, Kevin and mother Alissa said Mason is a happy-go-lucky baby whose new favorite activity is blowing raspberries. After Mason’s transplant, each day will be celebrated as a milestone, but Valentine’s Day will continue to hold an extra special place in the hearts of the Silva family.
“The day that Mason’s life is being changed by a stranger, they’re going to have all this extra blood that’s going to go to children or adults,” Alissa said. “Mason’s experience can potentially save so many more lives.”