BOTKINS – The New Year brings a day of sadness for Botkins blood donor Susan Leugers. The Chelsea Lukey Memorial Blood Drive she began as a tribute to the daughter she lost to cancer is now in its seventh year, and the remembrance is always mixed with pain.
Her solution is to make it a celebration. At the seventh annual Chelsea Lukey Memorial Blood Drive on Jan. 4 donors saw photos of Chelsea and Susan’s 2018 National Donation Hall of Fame award as they entered The Palazzo ball room. Susan served refreshments in the Donor Café and rushed to greet family members as they arrived to donate.
Her grandson Kameron Lukey used to run around the basement of Immaculate Conception Church with his brothers during the first blood drives for Chelsea. Now he’s a sophomore at Houston High who recently turned 16 and on Tuesday made his first lifetime blood donation.
“I’m so excited,” said Susan. “He’s bigger than I am!”
Susan made the final donation of the blood drive, her 152nd lifetime donation. She helped total 102 whole blood donors, including 89 whole blood donations, seven platelet/plasma donors, and 10 first-time donors for 101% of the collection goal.
The day began with some doubt. “Five dropped out this morning,” Susan said. “A lot of people I know are sick. They’re not saying it’s COVID, but I have to say, ‘Don’t donate if you feel sick.’”
This year the blood drive was on a bi-monthly rotation with Palazzo and Sacred Heart Parish. Donors at each blood drive are encouraged to sign up for the next. “Being on the rotation definitely helped,” said Susan.
Susan launched the first blood drive in the summer of 2016, four years after Chelsea lost her battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 22. It was an instant success with 76 donors. She recruited 34 first-time donors, including her son Nathan.
She held the next blood drive in early January to help CBC replenish the holiday blood supply. It’s now a New Year’s tradition in Botkins.
“I knew her daughter, she was in the same class as my son,” said Botkins donor Jeanie Bergman, who has donated at every blood drive for Chelsea. “She didn’t have to twist my arm very hard! I want to celebrate Chelsea and Susie. She was a very good girl.”
New Bremen donor Joe Thieman helped fill a row of platelet and plasma donors as he made his milestone 150th lifetime donation Tuesday. He considered donating around New Year’s a golden opportunity.
“You never know, you might be sick in a couple weeks,” he said. “Not necessarily COVID, even a cold this time of year.”
Susan again used a $250 grant from the non-profit Thrivent Action Team to treat donors to hot sandwiches and holiday cookies. CBC account manager Mirriah Phillips gave donors pancreatic cancer support bracelets.
Susan wore a jacket with the “Chelsea Football Club” emblem, one of England’s favorite soccer teams.
“It’s ‘football’ in England,” she said. “I wore it to a soccer game, and somebody said, ‘Are you a Chelsea fan?’ I said, ‘Yea. I’m a Chelsea fan.’”
At New Year’s every Botkins donor is a Chelsea fan. Including Kara Smith from Wapakoneta who almost forgot about the blood drive until she saw the sign outside the Palazzo and stopped to donate. “My husband is from Botkins,” said Kara. “Small towns show up.”