On a Wednesday morning in spring 2021, 4-year-old Rhett Kallenberger’s mother Melinda set about getting him ready for the day. “I tried to get his pajamas off and get him dressed for the day and he would not move his right arm without screaming,” Melinda said. “My husband said that he had the same problem putting him to bed the night before.”
Melinda and her husband Joe took Rhett to urgent care, where he was referred to specialists who ran blood tests. “By Friday afternoon, we had a leukemia diagnosis,” Melinda said. Because Rhett has Down syndrome, he is at a higher risk for infection and harmful side effects of treatment, necessitating a lengthy hospital stay.
During 40 days of inpatient care, Rhett received six blood and platelet transfusions that gave his little body the strength it needed to endure grueling chemotherapy. “The first time he received blood, it was physically transformative,” Melinda said. “It was a night-and-day difference in how he looked, just from one transfusion.”
Joe, a regular blood donor, encourages others to donate and help kids like Rhett. “It’s a simple thing to do and has a great impact on someone who is sick and in need of it,” he said. “It’s not the ‘what’ you are doing—it’s the ‘why.’ It’s to save lives.”
Melinda echoed her husband’s sentiments. “I’ve never given blood, but I will now because I know what it means to people.”