On March 31, Kalamazoo College held a blood drive in honor of Olivia Gaines K’18, who received a stem cell transplant on April 6th, giving her a long term shot to outlive a devastating diagnosis. This was the fifth blood drive nationwide in honor of Gaines. Sixty-five units of blood were generated at K, which can assist saving up to 195 lives. Additionally, 45 people registered to be on the national bone marrow registry.
Before her medical leave, Gaines was selected as a leader for the LandSea program. When Olivia started leadership training this past summer, she was honored to introduce eight incoming first-years to outdoor culture. She believes the physically rigorous LandSea program caused her leukemia symptoms to manifest. Olivia’s participation in the LandSea program very likely saved her life.
“LandSea is great leadership training and it demonstrated to me that I am tough and ready to outlive the debilitating challenges presented by leukemia,” Gaines said.
While hiking through the Adirondacks, she developed neck pains and when she returned to campus she had difficulty walking. She decided to take a medical leave from K and returned back to California, where she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow and causes a rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells.
She’s currently an inpatient at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California which is about 30 minutes away from her home.
Gaines says organizing blood drives and hosting national bone marrow registry sign ups help people save lives while giving back to the community in a meaningful way.
“It’s an act of supporting and honoring them,” she said. “At K, it gives us a second to pause and appreciate the importance of being a community. Being able to organize in this situation is very empowering.”
Gaines encourages people to donate at blood drives, since there are millions of people, not just her, who need blood in order to survive during medical treatments.
Shannon Haupt K’16, her co-leader on LandSea, registered to be on the national bone registry and wanted to donate blood during the previous blood drive in the winter, but couldn’t at the time due to low iron levels. While on LandSea, Haupt was scared and worried for her friend and offered her support by giving Olivia massages when she felt in pain.
“It was really scary, since I didn’t know what was wrong and she was in pain, especially being so far away from a medical center,” Haupt said.
Although they aren’t in the same state, Shannon and Olivia share a special bond that transcends geographic barriers.
Even though Olivia was blindsided by her situation, people around here are amazed with her strength and spirit during this difficult time.
“She’s the strongest person I know and the way she’s handling this through her philanthropic and outreach work, is so true to her character and spirit,” Haupt said.