Grandmother's act to help three-year-old cancer patient
GIVEN enough time, anything can become normal - just ask the family of three-year-old Arianna Baczynskis, who requires blood transfusions every few days.
In April, the toddler was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia, which inspired her Hervey Bay grandmother Rose Sheehy to roll up her sleeve for the first time to donate blood at 67.
Now the family is tackling their challenges head-on by sharing their story, as one of the recipients who rely on 34 per cent of the blood collected by the Australian Red Cross Blood Service that goes to cancer patients.
Ms Sheehy highlighted her granddaughter's journey at a ceremony held on Wednesday at the Hervey Bay Beach House Hotel to honour volunteers for National Blood Donor Week.
"We want to raise awareness because even though at this stage she is beating the cancer, she will be in hospital for the next three years for treatment and needs many more blood transfusions," Ms Sheehy said.
"I have donated blood for the first time earlier this month thanks to a church outreach program because it really does make a difference."
Ari, described as a "bright and happy" young girl who loved ballet and had just started kindy at Wallaville near Gin Gin, was taken to the local emergency room with a cold, bruising and pinprick clusters on her skin.
Speaking to the Chronicle from their Brisbane hospital room, mother Bonnie said she thought she was being an overprotective parent when she took her daughter to hospital.
Sent to Bundaberg for a second opinion, by 11pm the same Monday night the family had been given the news that Ari had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
That Saturday, Ari was in Brisbane receiving her first chemotherapy treatment.
Ari began receiving blood transfusions immediately to improve her haemoglobin count as well as receiving three-hour platelet transfusions regularly.
"I'm very proud of my mother, who has donated blood for the first time, and my husband, Elliot, who started donating again for the first time since 2015," Ms Baczynskis said.
"Ari's story is only one of the other five little girls her age in the ward also battling cancer."
The Gin Gin Motel part-owners, with their other child Oren, 5, haven't been back home since being transferred to Brisbane for Ari's treatment.
"The diagnosis hasn't changed their sibling dynamic at all," Ms Baczynskis said.
"They play really well and then fight and have to be separated like all good siblings.
"It is good she is not here by herself.
"She is feeling a lot better this week so she is asking 'when do I get to go back to Hervey Bay to see Grandma and my cousins' and 'when do I get to go back to kindy'."
According to her family, Ari has always been a "tough kid" who is "very determined".
"Her personality has helped with dealing with the side effects - like the steroid treatment in the first month means she lost a lot of muscle," Ms Baczynskis said.
"She has to build it back up again, learn to walk again and she gets frustrated because, like any toddler, she wants to climb things.
"She has put up with a lot and she is even still taking her oral medications when a lot of the other kids have to be fed intravenously."
Ms Baczynskis explained it was staring into the unknown that was the scariest part of the ordeal.
"We sort of dealt with it by researching more," she said.
"Thirty-four per cent of blood donations go to people like Ari, who need it to beat cancer, and blood disease patients, and only 5 per cent go to trauma victims.
"I cannot stress enough how much it helps."
The couple's friend in Gin Gin has started a GoFundMe page to help them out financially because the couple cannot work, as Ari requires 24-hour care and Ms Baczynskis is due to give birth to the family's newest member in July.
"I understand people want to help but don't quite know what to do," Ms Baczynskis said.
"We are so appreciative of the people who have donated or directly given us money or gift cards because we don't have a constant income.
"My husband and I have had a chat and if we are in an OK financial position when we return to Gin Gin we will be donating the money to the Leukaemia Foundation, who have supported us up here, and the Royal Children's Hospital.
"One way people can help is by going to your local centre and donating blood."
Blood Service spokeswoman Jacinta Jeffrey said a new blood donor was needed every five minutes in Australia.
"Our amazing donors can't do it alone and we need more people to make blood donation a regular, lifesaving habit," she said.
"It takes just an hour of your time to donate blood and every donation can help save up to three lives."